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Work back on track after vole hold up

PUBLISHED: 12:33 14 October 2008 | UPDATED: 12:01 03 July 2010

IN THE age of the credit crunch everyone is being forced to tighten their belts.

So it was the last thing Great Yarmouth College principal Robin Parkinson needed when he was told that plans for a state-of-the-art construction centre would have to be fundamentally redrawn.

IN THE age of the credit crunch everyone is being forced to tighten their belts.

So it was the last thing Great Yarmouth College principal Robin Parkinson needed when he was told that plans for a state-of-the-art construction centre would have to be fundamentally redrawn...to protect the home of a family of water voles.

His nightmare became worse - and even more costly - when he was told there was also a colony of common lizards on the wasteland site, and, by law, they would all have to be moved to a new home before builders could start work.

Revision of the plans, which involved buying an extra 10m of land, and the employment of ecologists to catch the lizards has cost £50,000 and delayed work on the £7.5m Learning and Skills Council funded scheme by several weeks.

However, Mr Parkinson last night insisted that all the hassles had been worth it and they were ultimately pleased as a publicly-funded learning institution “to demonstrate we care”.

The discovery that the former pipes storage yard in the town's Suffolk Road was an unlikely wildlife haven was made during a college-commissioned survey undertaken by environmental consultants Scott-Wilson in August.

Its senior ecologist Mike Padfield said they quickly found telltale signs of the presence of at least one water vole family in droppings and chewed vegetation.

Bad news for the college was that their habitat included a ditch that was to have been filled in under the original plans for the three-storey centre.

“The law changed this year and water voles and their burrows are now protected and cannot be destroyed by any new development,” said Mr Padfield.

Fresh plans, which had to be agreed with the official government body Natural England, entailed shifting the development 10m to safeguard the ditch.

But Mr Parkinson said they were now turning the setback into a “positive advantage” by creating a green corridor around the ditch and incorporating a viewing platform in the new centre for the benefit of students and pupils from the local Edward Worlledge Middle School. A neighbouring pond, also used by the water voles, would be extended as part of the revised scheme.

He said it fitted the vision of the new centre as the home for teaching energy efficient and eco-friendly building techniques as well as traditional crafts as the college moved towards being an eco-college.

In the meantime, Mr Padfield, wearing camouflage gear so as not to startle the lizards, is this week leading the effort to clear the last reptiles from the site.

He said: “So far we have caught 70 and have taken them to a Suffolk Wildlife Trust-administered site at Geldeston churchyard where we have created a new habitat for them. We will be monitoring the site next year to see how successful it has been.”

To catch the lizards, Mr Padfield has been laying down sheets of roofing felt on which they come out to bask in the sun.

The college's property development co-ordinator Robin Day said: “The builders will now be starting work in early November, nearly two months late.

“But it would have been worse if the lizards had not been caught before their hibernation period. Then we would have been looking at next spring.”

He said there was also good news in that the £50,000 extra cost would be mitigated by the financial saving on not having to dig a new culvert to replace the ditch that was to have been filled in.

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