Boris Johnson has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to protect newts that have threatened his plans to build an outdoor swimming pool at his Oxfordshire country manor.
The former prime minister promised to build a “Newtopia”, consisting of “newt motels”, for the amphibians who have taken residence at the Grade II-listed Brightwell Manor he shares with his wife Carrie and their three young children.
Mr Johnson – who ironically once blamed “newt counting” for holding up “the productivity and the prosperity of this country” – applied to install the 11-metre by four-metre outdoor feature at his manor in June.
But the process may be delayed after the local countryside officer warned of the risk to great crested newts – which thrive in the village and are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
In his latest Daily Mail column, Mr Johnson wrote: “If it turns out that our garden is so honoured and so fortunate as to be the home of some newts – great crested, palmate, whatever – I want you to know that I will do whatever it takes to protect them.
“If we have to build little newt motels to house them in their trips past the swimming pool, then we will. If we have to create whole newt-friendly bunds to stop them falling in, we will.
“We will excavate new ponds in which they can breed. We will make a Newtopia!”
Johnson’s proposed pool in ‘highest risk’ area
The South and Vale countryside officer last month filed a holding objection to Mr Johnson’s planned pool, arguing that the newts could be “impacted by the proposed development”.
In his report, which stated that planning permission should not “currently” be granted, local government ecologist Edward Church wrote: “There are known populations of great crested newts… in the east of the village.
“Mapping shows that there is a pond onsite and a moat immediately adjacent to the southern boundary, both well within 250 metres of the position of the proposed pool.
“The proposed development falls within the red zone of highest risk to GCN [great crested newts].”
Mr Johnson said that according to one of the ecology reports he has received – which he described as “amazingly expensive but worth every penny” – “there are certainly bodies of water nearby that could be hospitable to newts”.
“There is a chance that these creatures could be interrupted in their peregrinations, when they leave their watery lairs, by an unexpected new hole in the lawn,” he said.
“I am told that something that could be the spoor of the newt has been found, but we await DNA testing from the lab – and so, inevitably, I am warned that there may be delays, and there may be costs.”
The Wildlife Trust says the great crested newt, which is protected under UK and European wildlife law, is the biggest of the UK’s newt species, measuring up to 17cm.
The so-called “warty newt” is almost black with spotted flanks and an orange belly, with the charity comparing it to a mini-dinosaur.
Newt numbers are in decline, with habitat loss cited as their biggest threat.