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Thursday, July 22, 1999 Published at 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK


Stronger laws urged for rare species

A tenuous hold on survival: The dormouse needs legal back-up to stay put (Photo: Countryside Council for Wales)

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Wildlife legislation designed to protect rare plants, birds and animals in the United Kingdom is seriously deficient, and is failing some key species, conservationists say.

BBC News' Tom Fielden reports
The charge comes from the Wildlife Trusts, the national liaison body for 46 county trusts and other local groups across the country.

The Trusts, which have won respect for their practical conservation work and their analysis of policy, have produced a report, "Standing Up for Species".

It says the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act needs urgent amendment.

Plant destruction ignored

The present law "has so many gaps and inconsistencies that, over the last 20 years, species have suffered as many hundreds of sites under its supposed protection have been damaged or destroyed".

"There have been no prosecutions under the Act for destroying listed plants, and only a handful of prosecutions for harming animals, other than bats."

[ image: Great crested newts' ponds are vanishing]
Great crested newts' ponds are vanishing
Species at risk named in the report include the great crested newt, the dormouse and the skylark.

The newt, a species of European importance, is threatened by destruction of its breeding sites, and by what the Trusts say is a failure to enforce the law.

More than 300 newt ponds are destroyed annually, yet there have been only two successful prosecutions for deliberate damage. The report says the "paltry" fines imposed on offenders are no deterrent.

It says too little is known about dormice populations, and no-one has the power to survey woodlands to tell landowners that they have dormice.

The animal is at risk from both farming and development, which often takes place without any consultation with wildlife agencies.

The Act is supposed to protect the areas where rare species live, known as sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs).

Worse outside protected areas

But the report says their owners and managers "have no legal obligation to manage the sites to safeguard the precious wildlife they contain".

[ image: The basking shark - badly damaged by fishing]
The basking shark - badly damaged by fishing
It also urges better protection for creatures living outside SSSIs, and says mobile species like the skylark - whose numbers have more than halved in 40 years - are especially poorly protected.

Others at risk include the basking shark, the marsh fritillary butterfly, and two plants, the early gentian and the Deptford pink.

The Trusts' director general, Dr Simon Lyster, said what was needed was new wildlife laws in the next Queen's Speech. But that would be only a start.

"Land managers need better advice and greater incentives to look after rare species, and that will mean improvements in agricultural policy and the planning process.

"The need is there, the time is now, and public support has never been greater. We just need the government to act."

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