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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 July 2007, 06:55 GMT 07:55 UK
Top Gear 'damaged African plains'
Top Gear promotional shot
The show has been accused of environmental damage before
The BBC's motoring programme Top Gear has been accused of causing damage to a pristine wilderness in Botswana.

Conservationists have accused the show, hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, of leaving scars across the Makgadikgadi salt pans by driving vehicles across them.

They have said the tracks caused by the cars could remain for decades.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "We employed several environmental experts who advised us on where we could and couldn't go."

Bad example

She added the BBC had "ensured that we never went near any conservation areas".

Mary Rice of the Environmental Investigation Agency, which carries out conservation work in Botswana, said the BBC's example could lead hordes of "boy racers" to follow suit.

Photo by Ijaz Bhatti
Photographer Ijaz Bhatti recently crossed the Makgadikgadi salt pans
Guide David Dugmore was quoted in the Observer newspaper: "The thing that worries me is the viewers and public that are going to go out to the lakes, and we will end up with every Tom, Dick and Harry that comes up, with vehicles and quad bikes, which will absolutely spoil the place."

Top Gear, which has a large audience in southern Africa, is often controversial because of what critics describe as its addiction to speed and risk.

Last year, co-host Richard Hammond was seriously injured after he crashed while driving a jet-powered car at speeds up to 300mph at Elvington airfield, near York, last September.

In 2004, the programme took a 4x4 vehicle up Ben Tongue mountain in Scotland, reportedly churning up heather and sensitive peat on the way, and causing substantial ecological damage. The programme denied the allegations.

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