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The Jubilee River story - Couple kept out of £1m home by a 3in newt
A couple whose £1 million home was wrecked in last summer's floods have been prevented from moving back in because newts could be living in the grounds.
John Histed, 71, and his wife Margie, 67, have been living in a caravan since their 18th-century farmhouse flooded last July.
They had almost finished £250,000 of repairs when a blocked drainage ditch near their garden caused the property to flood again.
However, the Environment Agency has barred them from unblocking the ditch to prevent further flooding because it suspects that great crested newts are living there.
Officials have ordered a three-month survey to look for the protected species.
Any work to remove them could take several more months. In the meantime, the couple have put their renovations on hold in case the property floods again.
Mrs Histed, a retired doctor, said: "I know it's the law, but it's very frustrating and bordering on the ridiculous that the fate of newts takes precedence over humans.
"Is it reasonable for us to just sit here and watch if the ditch floods our home again just because there may be some newts there?"
The Histeds' house lies close to the M4 at Dauntsey, near Chippenham, Wilts. Last summer, a drainage ditch that runs through the garden became blocked and burst its banks.
More than 3ft of water gushed into the six-bedroom home, causing enormous damage.
The Histeds have spent the past eight months re-wiring the house and replacing the kitchen, boiler and central heating system.
They were beginning the final stages of repairs when, last week, they were flooded again.
It then emerged that the drainage ditch, which takes run-off from the motorway, is still blocked by debris.
They wrote requesting permission to unblock it, but Environment Agency officials refused. They said staff had to check the water thoroughly to look for the 3in creatures.
However, the survey cannot begin in spring because the newts may be breeding, while birds in hedges and trees along the ditch may be sitting on eggs.
It is estimated that the survey will not start until June and that work to remove any newts could have to wait until autumn.
Mr Histed, a retired computer consultant and father of three, said they already have a healthy newt population in a pond on their 10 acres of grounds.
"It's not that we're not sympathetic towards wildlife," he said. "In fact, we're very keen on it and understand the need to protect certain species.
"But it seems ridiculous that we can't protect our property from more flood damage for many months because newts may be there."
The great crested newt is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the EU habitats and species directive.
It is illegal to capture, kill or disturb the habitat of the creatures and offenders face a maximum sentence of a £5,000 fine or six months in prison.
An Environment Agency spokesman said: "The EU legislation makes it an offence to disturb any habitat of a protected species so anyone who wants to do work on a watercourse has to check they are not present."
Last month, work on a £15 million bypass for the village of Earl Shilton, Leics, was suspended so that £1.7 million could be spent to protect as few as one great crested newt.