Hibernating smooth snakes halt work on Tesla's German factory

Pine logs piled up on the site where US electric car giant Tesla is building its new car factory, in Gruenheide near Berlin - ODD ANDERSEN /AFP
Pine logs piled up on the site where US electric car giant Tesla is building its new car factory, in Gruenheide near Berlin - ODD ANDERSEN /AFP

Not many things can stop Elon Musk in his tracks - but it turns out that hibernating snakes are a rare exception.

Environmentalists are celebrating after successfully arguing that work on Tesla's new factory near Berlin would disturb the slumber of the smooth snake.

Forest clearing has now been temporarily halted while a court consults environmental authorities.

The electric car company had planned to build its new gigafactory in Gruenheide, outside Berlin, and begin production next summer of its new Model Y SUV.

But its plans have faced opposition from environmentalists, and the company has been engaged in an environmental audit, a time-consuming process which must identify whether any rare species could be disturbed.

The company says it will bring 12,000 jobs to the region, and some pro-business figures have accused environmental groups of blocking economic progress.

Work was previously stopped and restarted in February after a court rejected environmentalists' claims that the factory posed a threat to local wildlife and water supplies.

In October the company agreed to reduce its water consumption after an eight-day consultation with locals.

Germany's largest environmental group, the Nature Conservation Association (NABU), says that the smooth snake, also known as Coronella austriaca, may be hibernating in the ground at the site, and that tree-cutting activity may disturb its winter slumber.

Local authorities are also reviewing claims by NABU that Lacerta agilis, known as sand lizards, could be put at risk by Tesla’s expansion.

German political party the Ecological Democratic Party, which helped fund NABU's court action, welcomed this as "good and important news".

Chairman Christian Rechholz said: "With this procedure it becomes very clear that independent, critical nature conservation associations are needed that are consistently committed to nature conservation, even if it hurts."

A spokesman for the administrative court in Frankfurt an der Oder said: “The Landesumweltamt (state environmental authority) and Tesla will now be consulted, they need to make submissions by this afternoon and then we assess the situation."

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

The stoppage comes as the electric car company announced that it would raise $5bn (£3.8m) in a new share sale, its second in three months, taking advantage of a 670 per cent rise in its share price this year.

Headquartered in California, its global manufacturing expansion began with a factory in Shanghai, which began building its Model 3 saloon cars at the end of last year.

Rumours that it may next make a move to the UK were fuelled by a visit by Mr Musk in June this year to tour a potential site in Somerset.