CONSTRUCTION work at Darlington's West Cemetery has been halted after evidence of a protected species of newt was found.

Darlington Borough Council, which is carrying out the work to revamp the crematorium in Carmel Road North, says it halted work last week after DNA evidence of the newts were found at a pond near where the work is taking place. 

It follows a possible sighting of a great crested newt, which is protected by law.

The council says its initial ecology survey, done before the work started, showed no evidence of the newt. 

Ian Thompson, the council’s assistant director of community services, said: “As part of the development for the new chapel within West Cemetery, an ecology survey was carried out which formed part of the planning application and at that time there was no evidence of great crested newts within the site. 

“Subsequently, due to a report of a possible sighting close to the site, the council’s ecologist felt after some investigation that the evidence was credible and therefore a decision was taken to stop construction work, while further investigations were carried out.

"DNA samples have been taken from pond areas in the adjacent allotment site, and a positive result has been identified in one of the samples. 

“We are working closely with the ecologist and Natural England, and an initial enquiry has been submitted. 

"We are hopeful that works will resume shortly, but only once any mitigation measures are identified and agreed, and in line with Natural England’s recommendations. 

“Construction work to the existing crematorium building within West Cemetery is able to continue, and is progressing well.”

The £6.4m project, which got underway in April, has already been delayed because of the pandemic, having been approved shortly before the lockdown last March. 

Greatcrested newts are among the most heavily protected creatures in the UK.

The species is fully protected under domestic and European legislation, making it an offence to capture, injure, kill or disturb a great crested newt, damage or destroy any place used by a great crested newt (for example ponds or terrestrial habitat), or obstruct access to any place used by a great crested newt.