How a site manager overcame three hundred legless lizards to win our South Wales Site Manager of the Year award

Imagine you are a site manager, keen to start on the biggest-budget site of your career, and before you can lay a spade in the ground an ecologist orders you to wait… after finding hundreds of slow-worms.

It happened to Brian James of Hale Construction. Yet within weeks of the development’s first phase to be handed over, he’s won the LABC Warranty Site Manager of the Year award for South Wales and will be bidding to become the overall winner for England and Wales at the LABC Excellence Awards in November.

There’s even a happy ending for the slow-worms, too.

Knotweed and slow-worms – all in a day’s work for Brian

An experienced site manager, Brian may have thought that at 55 he had seen most things. His first concern at Ateb Housing Association’s 87-unit Three Meadows development in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, was the single site access road which incorporated extensive mains drainage at five metres deep. Until this access was resolved, nothing was coming in or going out of site.

But then an ecologist site visit brought another twist – in the form of slow-worms. “They had to put down about 200 quarter-metre square sheets of roofing felt, and that brought out the slow-worms – I believe between 250 and 300 of them. After that we had to wait several days, and if no more slow-worms appeared, we could start.”

Slow-worms are neither a worm nor a snake, but a legless lizard. They were taken to a nearby farm and released into the knowledgeable care of a couple who previously ran an aquarium and reptile tourist attraction in Tenby.

Nature wasn’t done with Brian yet, though. The dreaded Japanese Knotweed was discovered and the Site Manager added the invasive plant to his Toolbox Talk roster. “It can literally be spread with tyre treads,” he explained. “It’s lucky you see it clearly – the bright red stems show up against the clay soil here. But it was another thing we needed to watch out for.”

Despite the challenges, the £9.5m Three Meadows development is on target to provide much-needed affordable-rent homes through 15 bungalows, 48 semi-detached houses and 24 flats across 13 unit designs.

Satisfaction comes from a job well done

The best part of the job for Brian is the feeling that comes from finishing a site and handing over to a satisfied client. “It’s good to know you and your team have done a good job,” he said. “I previously worked on a 30-unit site in Pembroke with Hale Construction for Ateb, and they came back to us for Three Meadows. That’s what it’s about.

“It’s a pleasure working in Pembrokeshire. There’s still a job to be done but somehow it’s a little more chilled, and everyone’s ready to help.”

Radio presenter and tenor Wynne Evans, best known for the Go Compare adverts, invited all three shortlisted site managers to the stage at the awards ceremony in the plush Vale Resort in the Vale of Glamorgan. It was a nice touch, as all three were from Hale Construction.

But it’s Brian who will be heading to London in November as he bids to become LABC Warranty Site Manager of the Year 2019.

Slow-worms – the low-down

A slow-worm

Slow-worms are lizards without legs, protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act making it illegal to kill, injure or sell them. If they are found during an ecological survey of a development site, work will be prevented until they can be protected or relocated to another site.

Reptiles are ecothermic animals, meaning they regulate their body temperate using their environment. Unlike mammals, which generate their own body heat, reptiles bask in warm places before they can hunt or eat. The felt sheets at Three Meadows acted as warming blankets to attract the slow-worms and make them easier to catch.

Typically, ecologists work for about 20 to 30 days catching slow-worms and will need several “slow-worm free” days before they consider their work complete.

Slow-worms are harmless and benefit gardeners, as they eat garden pests. They can be found in mature gardens and allotments, especially around compost heaps. Much smaller than a snake, slow-worms hibernate in the winter and like sunbathing in the summer, but don’t expect to find any in your garden if you have a cat…

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