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Thursday, October 22, 1998 Published at 01:21 GMT 02:21 UK


Species' survival in doubt

Otters face danger, says the WWF

By BBC News Online Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The World Wide Fund for Nature-UK says the Government is not giving proper protection to some of the country's most important wildlife sites.

Environment Correspondent Tim Hirsch: Needles Rocks not selected for special protection
WWF says more than two-thirds of the sites have been left off a government list of places nominated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).

The government is submitting a list of 331 candidate SACs to the European Commission. Totalling two-point-eight per cent of the territory of the UK, they include some of the jewels in the country's natural crown.

But WWF has produced a map of sites which it says have been left off the list.

It says the government should submit about a thousand candidate SACs, covering roughly eight per cent of the territory, "to secure our finest natural heritage into the next millennium".

Among the species whose survival WWF says will be jeopardised are rare orchids, otters and marsh fritillary butterflies.

Marine life needs help

It says entire habitats will also be at risk, including heaths, bogs and estuaries. It singles out the River Tweed and a sandbank off the north Norfolk coast which is important to several species of crab.

[ image: Seals need protection]
Seals need protection
The WWF report also says part of the coast of County Down should be listed by the government, because of its value as a breeding site for common seals.

Most other European Union countries have nominated far more of their territory for designation as SACs. In Denmark and the Netherlands, the figure is between seven and eight per cent.

Spain, Greece and Sweden are nominating up to 15% of their territory.

WWF-UK's Andrew Lee: "Government must do more"
WWF believes the EU's Habitats Directive, designed to protect endangered species and the areas where they live, offers a chance to channel money from farm subsidies into nature conservation.

It says taxpayers already contribute 3bn for farm support in the UK each year.

WWF says the directive offers an opportunity to redirect some of that money into supporting landowners who manage SACs sustainably.

'Crucial opportunity'

Andrew Lee, WWF's Head of UK and Europe, said: "Some of Europe's finest and most threatened wildlife is here in the United Kingdom.

"WWF-UK believes that the government is missing a crucial opportunity to draw on existing and potential EU funds to support our countryside and coast and those who manage them".

A conference on the Habitats Directive, convened by the Austrian Government, which holds the presidency of the EU at the moment, begins on Thursday.

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