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Amphibians find a newt home in the broadband network

Press Release   •   Sep 12, 2016 11:33 BST

Rare Great Crested newts. Photos: Peter Leach

An Openreach engineer found some unexpected visitors in a manhole when he was working in Coldingham in the Scottish Borders.

Broadband network planner Steve Jones, 57, was surveying a manhole prior to Openreach, BT’s local network business, rolling out superfast broadband in the area as part of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme.

When Steve opened the manhole he found a family of great crested newts living happily alongside the telephone cables. Steve, a lifelong fan, immediately recognised that the great crested newts are a protected species. To disturb, injure or kill them is against European law.

Steve said: “A community of great crested newts was the last thing I expected to find. Some of them had climbed onto the cables inside the hole. I recognised them because I was interested in amphibians and reptiles when I was young. So I took a photo and sent it to a friend, who confirmed what they were.”

Steve got in touch with an environmental consultant for advice as well as the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC).

“It’s a new habitat in the area for Great Crested newts and the conservationists at ARC were really excited to hear they’re spreading to this area,” said Steve.

An environmental consultancy with a licence to work with protected species was also called in. They found seven great crested newts, five smooth and three palmate newts at the top of the manhole. But it was impossible to see if there were more because the manhole was full of water. It was carefully drained and checked.

“We recovered two more great crested newts, but the real conundrum is what they were doing there in the first place”, said Steve, who lives in Burgess Hill in West Sussex but who surveys new broadband networks across the UK.

Peter Leach, a herpetologist (specialist in reptiles and amphibians) and environmental consultant based in North Berwick, was called in to provide expert advice.

He said: “This was really unusual – how these newts got into the manhole remains a complete mystery. The access points around the manhole are either dry or blocked, so we may never know how they ended up here. The species isn’t common in Scotland and weren’t previously known to be present in this area. They need ponds for breeding and suitable habitat for feeding and hibernation.

“The most important thing was to find a safe new home for the newts. Working with ARC and the Scottish Borders Amphibian and Reptile Group, who had recently carried out DNA testing of nearby water pools, we were able to find a suitable pond to relocate the newts.”

As delivery partner for the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme, Openreach is rolling out superfast fibre broadband across the Scottish Borders area. Already, more than 68 per cent of households and businesses in Scottish Borders have access to superfast fibre broadband thanks to BT’s commercial coverage and the Digital Scotland rollout. The programme aims to extend fibre broadband coverage to 95 per cent of Scotland by the end of March 2016.

Sara Budge, programme director for Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband, said: “Finding these newts was a tad unusual – but all part of a day’s work. It’s good that thanks to Steve noticing the newts quickly, they’ve found a suitable ‘newt’ home, while we continue to progress with our deployment not only in the Scottish Borders but across Scotland.”

ENDS