Monday, September 6, 1999 Published at 00:04 GMT 01:04 UK
UK 'neglecting wildlife sites'
Government policy "failing the harbour porpoise"
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
The UK is being accused of not doing enough to protect some of its most important sites for wildlife.
Environmental groups say they fear for the future of species such as seals, otters and porpoises unless action is taken.
As well as providing a list of extra suggested conservation sites, the groups suggest farmers should be funded to manage more land for wildlife.
The UK Government is defending its record on site designation.
But the Worldwide Fund for Nature and Friends of the Earth say it has not done enough, and want it "to stiffen its resolve to properly protect Britain's beleaguered wildlife".
The EC is reviewing progress on designating potential special areas of conservation (SACs), under the European Union's habitats and species directive.
"Improving and expanding the list would help ensure the future of our most important habitats and species, as well as providing better protection to the sites the government has already proposed," the WWF said.
It is concerned that the list of UK sites as it stands represents a failure to attract funding from EU programmes, which could help rural communities.
Led by subsidies
"At a time when a potential farming crisis is hitting the UK, WWF believes the directive should be used to encourage landowners, including farmers, to manage more land for wildlife," says the group.
"Instead, the government has allowed agricultural subsidies and development funding to dominate."
WWF says it "has identified a sample of 192 sites to which the government has failed to give European protection, and more than one in five of these sites has suffered damage".
On marine sites, WWF says the government's list is inadequate. Dogger Bank in the North Sea has been omitted because of a belief that the directive does not apply beyond 12 nautical miles from shore.
And the UK has nominated no sites for the harbour porpoise, saying further research is needed. WWF has itself nominated porpoise habitats off the Pembrokeshire coast and in Shetland.
Other mammals are at risk from government inaction include otters in the river Tweed and elsewhere, and seals, it says.
It wants Lough Foyle in Northern Ireland, a special protection area for birds, to be protected under the habitats directive.
Yet plans to extend Derry city airport into the protected area will destroy two hectares and affect up to three more. Funding for the runway extension is being sought from EU sources.
WWF, Birdlife International and the Irish Peat and Conservation Council are the only non-governmental groups allowed to take part in the three-day EC meeting.