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Sunday, December 27, 1998 Published at 02:17 GMT


Help for threatened habitats

New habitat protection may arrest the skylark's rapid decline

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Some of the UK's rarest species of flora and fauna will soon be enjoying better protection.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore reports on the new protection scheme
The species will benefit from the government's publication on 29 December of 10 new habitat action plans.

The plans are the latest in a series prepared by the UK Biodiversity Steering Group.

They aim to safeguard those habitats which need priority action precisely because of the species they shelter.

The 10 new plans cover:

  • Aquifer-fed naturally fluctuating water bodies. These are a rare type of lake which is supplied by groundwater

  • Eutrophic standing waters - lakes, reservoirs and gravel pits which are covered in large amounts of algae

  • Lowland hay meadows, often home to the skylark, a bird in steep decline

  • Upland hay meadows, important for the corncrake

  • Lowland dry acid grassland. This is grassland which grows on acid soil, where birds such as the lapwing, woodlark and stone curlew tend to congregate

  • Lowland calcareous grassland - grassland on lime soil, home to butterflies and orchids

  • Wood pastures and parklands, noted for their lichens and for insects like the stag beetle

  • Wet woodlands - these attract craneflies and the still relatively rare otter

  • Upland mixed ash woodland, home not only to the shy dormouse but often to magnificent springtime displays of primroses and bluebells

  • Lowland beech and yew woodland, a habitat in which different sorts of fungus often thrive

[ image: Butterflies are among the species to benefit]
Butterflies are among the species to benefit
The 10 habitats chosen span a wide area of the UK. Eutrophic standing waters, for example, include Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland.

Pastures and parklands are represented by the New Forest, Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, and Windsor Great Park a short distance away.

And the Norfolk Broads include examples of wet woodlands.

The chief scientist at English Nature, the government's wildlife adviser, is Keith Duff.

[ image: The otter's slow revival may accelerate]
The otter's slow revival may accelerate
He said: "These action plans help to ensure the long-term survival of these important and threatened habitats and maintain the wealth of wildlife - our biodiversity - which depends on them."

Plans to protect 24 habitats covering 116 species were published in December 1995.

In June this year the steering group announced action plans to protect a further 56 species.

Several hundred more plans, for both species and habitats, are due to be published early in 1999.

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