Watch CBSN Live

Newts Make News

John and Margaret Histed own a beautiful English farmhouse in the heart of rural Wiltshire - to the south west of London. Last summer, during a series of almost Biblical rainstorms, their home was flooded. It took months to dry out and then restore.

They were about to move back in when a drainage ditch from a nearby road burst - and the house was awash again. This time the remedy was obvious. Fix the ditch - cure the flood.

But when they asked the relevant Government Agency for permission they weren't just refused -- the newt police arrived. Now - it is illegal in England to capture, kill or disturb the habitat of a rare creature called the great crested newt. Apparently they are 3 inches long with tufted green heads.

Mr. and Mrs. Histed have never actually seen one. And the newt police, the officials from the Environment Agency, aren't absolutely sure that there are any. But there might be, you see, and that's enough. Which is why Mr. and Mrs. Histed are currently living in a cold trailer in their garden until the newt police have decided whether there are any newts to protect.

Everything must stop during the breeding season just in case any undiscovered newts are gestating new invisible newts - and if they are, then everything will have to stop until they grow up into big newts.

We British take legislation so seriously. In France there are similar rules, but the French eat frogs' legs with zeal and would probably tuck into a great crested newt if they could find one.

Meantime, in-law abiding Leicestershire, a hundred and fifty miles north of here, work on a multi-million pound turnpike was stopped for a whole month while a huge and costly protective barrier was built for one single three-inch long great crested newt. Here in Britain tiny green creatures - even solitary ones - always get the benefit of the doubt.

But as Mr. and Mrs. Histed would no doubt say - no newts is good newts. What do you mean, you saw that coming?
By Ed Boyle