AN EXPERT who advised a mining company on how to proceed following a reported sighting of a protected great crested newt on a disputed opencast mine site has denied his work was flawed.

Ecologist Paul Lupton, who undertook a survey and produced a report for the Banks mining group, was also accused of acting as “judge and jury” in his approach to the apparent sighting of one of the creatures on the Bradley site in Pont Valley, between Leadgate and Dipton, County Durham.

Banks faced protests from environmental campaigners after it began preparatory work in order to extract about half-a-million tonnes of coal with police making several arrests for alleged trespass and obstruction in April this year.

In the second day of a trial involving eight protestors being held at Teesside Magistrates Court, Mr Lupton said there had been several cases in the past “where people had been found bringing newts onto sites” where planned developments were due to take place.

The confirmed presence of newts at the Bradley site would have meant a protected species licence had to applied for in order that Banks could continue to comply with planning permission granted by Durham County Council.

Mr Lupton’s eventual report concluded that great crested newts were “no longer a constraint to development on the site” and there was no scientific evidence to suggest their presence.

This followed on from a previous survey in 2014 which found there had been a major deterioration in the newt population in the area.

Defence solicitor Neil Connell produced an e-mail exchange involving Mr Lupton in which the witness suggested the actual presence of newts was a “worst case scenario” for Banks and would lead to the project being delayed.

He also claimed Mr Lupton had badly advised Banks and failed to carry out a survey properly.

Mr Connell said: “To put it bluntly you were not following your own professional body’s recommended source material for surveying?

“And if your survey was defective then your conclusion is also defective?

“You were never in a position where [you] could scientifically make the conclusions you did.”

Mr Lupton said he disagreed and he was comfortable with what he had done.

The defence solicitor said actions taken by Banks had destroyed the breeding and nesting ground for any remaining newts and this was as a consequence of the advice given by Mr Lupton.

The witness replied: “No, because we came to the conclusion that they [great crested newts] were no longer present.”

Eight defendants, aged between 21 and 44, deny trespassing on the opencast site with individuals facing charges including obstructing a person engaged in lawful activity and resisting a police officer.

The trial continues.