Historic gardens on the edge of Horsham which were due to re-open to the public next month have been delayed for a second time.
Extensive restoration works at Leonardslee Gardens in Lower Beeding - famed as the finest woodland gardens in England - have been halted after the discovery of a great crested newt and a bat on the site.
The gardens are now not expected to re-open until next January with delays also encountered in planning approvals for upgrading works.
Leonardslee owner Penny Streeter said: “We have been forced to extend the refurbishment programme and postpone the opening until January 2019 because of planning delays that are beyond our control.
“This is a year-long restoration project already and this setback is deeply disappointing for us and the many members who have already joined.
“In the meantime Leonardslee House can accommodate groups for weddings and private parties by appointment. In August we will open a new restaurant, Interlude, and tea rooms, and can accept reservations shortly, when the date is confirmed.”
Initial hold-ups were encountered when Natural England imposed restrictions following the discovery of a great crested newt in one of the greenhouses in the gardens.
A spokesman said that the newt had never actually been seen on the site but its presence “prevented any building works anywhere on the estate; only maintenance works are allowed, according to the regulations.
“This has delayed the building of a new entrance and ticket office for the gardens until Natural England agree to any work proceeding.
“Planning consent is required from Horsham Council and then the estate must apply for a licence from Natural England to move the newt into a new environment.
“This is not anticipated to be in place until October 2018.
“Also, a survey is underway to detect a bat, possibly located inside the manor house; the owners are waiting for the results to then get essential planning consent from Horsham Council to continue restoration work and update the facilities of the Grade II Listed building.”
Penny added: “Added to this, we await planning permission from Horsham District Council to create a new car park to accommodate the volume of visitors’ vehicles that are expected.
“The existing car park at the front of the house is not adequate to meet projected numbers, even for use on a temporary basis. Additional parking spaces are essential.
“The planning delays are very frustrating for us and the many supporters of this beautiful and historic estate, who contact us daily asking to visit.”
It had originally been planned to re-open the 200-acre lakes and gardens estate in March, but the re-opening date was later put back to July.
The new postponement until January next year is bound to disappoint thousands of visitors eager to see the estate once more. The gardens previously attracted around 50,000 visitors a year.
The estate was closed to the public in 2010 when it was bought by a mystery buyer but then left to become overgrown. It was bought last year by South African-based businesswoman Penny Streeter who also owns the Benguela Collection vineyard and hospitality group - which includes the 400-acre Mannings Heath Golf Course and Wine Estate, close to Leonardslee.
Since then workers have been toiling round the clock in a bid to restore the gardens - first planted in 1801 - to their former glory. The estate is noted for outstanding displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias, spring flowers and its rock garden.
For advance bookings for weddings and other events at Leonardslee call 01403 220345 email@example.com