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Work on £7.5m centre delayed by voles

PUBLISHED: 17:02 16 October 2008 | UPDATED: 09:16 11 May 2010

College project held up by water voles

College project held up by water voles

WORK on a £7.5m state-of-the-art centre for building skills students has been delayed due to unusual sitting tenants.

Great Yarmouth College principal Robin Parkinson was told his visionary plans would have to be fundamentally redrawn to protect the home of a family of water voles.

WORK on a £7.5m state-of-the-art centre for building skills students has been delayed due to unusual sitting tenants.

Great Yarmouth College principal Robin Parkinson was told his visionary plans would have to be fundamentally redrawn to protect the home of a family of water voles.

And it 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 Learning and Skills Council funded scheme by several weeks.

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

Senior ecologist Mike Padfield said they found telltale signs of the presence of at least one water vole family in droppings and chewed vegetation. Bad news for the college was their habitat included a ditch that was to have been filled in under the original plans for the three-storey centre.

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

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

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 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.

This week, Mr Padfield, was 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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