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Pipeline construction workers on toad patrol

[E]ngineers working on United Utilities’ new water pipeline near Keswick have been lending a helping hand to the local love-struck wildlife.

The pipeline route at Dodd Wood near Bassenthwaite crosses a migration route used by toads and newts to get from the wood into the lake at breeding time.

It’s a hazardous journey undertaken every Spring by the amphibians which have to run the gauntlet of the busy traffic on the A591 when they come out of hibernation.

That migration was more hazardous than usual this Spring due to the pipeline work and its special barriers used to prevent soil from the working area washing off into the lake.

So this year the small creatures have hitched a lift for part of the journey, in buckets carried by the construction team, under the watchful care of ecologists and the West Cumbria Rivers Trust.

Ash Bennett is the independent ecologist working on the pipeline project and he explained why the construction team got involved: “In many places, the pipeline route has to have a continuous silt barrier to prevent silty water from entering sensitive habitats such as Bassenthwaite Lake or nearby watercourses.

“The West Cumbria Rivers Trust noticed a stretch of this barrier existed across a very important common toad migration route at Dodd Wood. Once they contacted us, we were swift to implement an appropriate mitigation plan.

“The plan included making a few small holes in the barrier where silt problems were considered unlikely to be an issue and deploying a dedicated toad patrol who were instructed to walk the silt fence every day and rescue any trapped amphibians for safe release on the other side.”

The amphibians helped in the rescue operation were Common Toad, Smooth Newt and Palmate Newt. These are not endangered species so it was permissible for the workers in the toad patrol to handle the animals without any special licence. In total they rescued more than 120 toads and 18 newts over a three-week period, transferring them to an agreed safe location at a stream near the lake.

Rebecca Neal, Outreach Officer for West Cumbria Rivers Trust, said: “It’s great that the contractors were so interested in the animals, and the work they did was really appreciated. We hope they join our toad patrol next year.”

John Hilton, United Utilities project director, said: “Although this is the largest pipeline project currently underway in the UK, we are working in such a sensitive environment that it’s vital for us to protect the local environment.  I’m really proud of our teams and the importance they are placing on the ecological aspects of the project.”

As well as the amphibian rescue, United Utilities is working with ecologists along the pipeline route to ensure the protection of breeding badgers, red squirrels and even osprey.

The £300m West Cumbria Water Supplies project will bring more reliable and sustainable water supplies into Allerdale and Copeland.  The scheme will link the area to Thirlmere Reservoir, and involves the construction of 100km of new pipeline, a new treatment plant at Williamsgate, two new pumping stations and two new underground service reservoirs. The project started in Spring 2017 and will be completed by 2022.

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