Monday, November 13, 2006

How much is a newt worth?

The Highways Agency has pledged to spend £300,000 on capturing and relocating a colony of great crested newts caught up in a roadbuilding project. The scheme promises to save the lives of 15 newts at a cost of £20,000 each. Even to many enviromentalists this seems like a ridiculous waste of money. Furthermore, there appears to be 100,000 such newts in existence. Does the Highways Agency believe that the entire great crested newt population is worth £2 billion? This is a situation in which asking people about their willingness to pay for preserving species would have been useful. For the record the Department of Health refuses to fund life saving drugs if the cost per year of life gained exceeeds £10,000. Here's how the story was reported in the Guardian newpaper:

A rare species of newt won a victory for small amphibians yesterday as highway bosses defended their decision to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a relocation scheme.
The Highways Agency has pledged more than £300,000 on capturing a colony of great crested newts that have been caught up in a roadbuilding project.

The newts, which are a protected species, have been trapped and relocated to make way for a £51m junction improvement project on the A5117 in Cheshire.

Officials at the agency said a number of newts had been captured so far, but refused to confirm reports that only 15 of the animals had been trapped in total.

A spokesman for the Highways Agency said: "The work is currently ongoing and a number of great crested newts have been trapped."

He added: "It is not possible to give a final figure because the work is still under way.

"We have a duty to ensure newts are protected and moved to the safety of nearby ponds so as to prevent them from being harmed during the construction of the road scheme."

The money has been spent on installing 15 miles of special fencing near the Deeside Park junction to trap the newts.

They are then relocated to the safety of nearby ponds.

Dorothy Wright, an expert on newts from the Herpetological Conservation Trust, said: "When a lot of money is spent and only a few newts are saved, it would be great if that money could have been spent to increase the viability of local populations."

The latest figures suggest that there are only around 100,000 great crested newts left in the United Kingdom, with the population falling by around 20% over the past 50 years.

The newts, which are a protected species under European legislation, breed in ponds but spend part of their life cycle on the land.


Anonymous said...

I think £300,000 is a fair price to pay to save one species. Let's not forget that we belong to the planet not the other way round. We're already learning the hard way (climate change) about the effects our destructive behaviour is having on the planet. The sad thing is that this beautiful creature is being displaced by yet another short-sighted road building scheme which will increase the amount of cars on the roads in turn increasing pollution. So much for tackling climate change. And as a taxpayer in a so-called democracy, I'd much rather pay for this than contribute to the millions or billions spent on the armed forces or building roads. But what say do I get where my taxes go?

Anonymous said...

It's not £300,000 to save the entire species. This money is being spent on saving 15 members of a species whose estimated number is 100,000. What a waste.

Anonymous said...

Asking people their willingness to pay would only tell us the instrumental (and anthropocentric) value of these newts. It wouldn't tell us the extent to which they have intrinsic or primary value in the ecosystems of which they are a part.

£20,000 does sound a bit steep though.