Monday, October 11, 1999 Published at 00:22 GMT 01:22 UK
Protection demanded for whales
There is less protection for whales than for leeches, Greenpeace says
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
The environmental group Greenpeace is mounting a legal challenge to the UK Government to give greater protection to marine life round the British coast.
Greenpeace is seeking a judicial review of the government's refusal to apply the European Union's habitats directive up to 370 kilometres (200 nautical miles) from the coast.
The government says the provisions of the directive should apply only as far as 19 kilometres (12 miles) out. It is supported by oil companies, who say that victory for Greenpeace would impede their explorations.
But the campaigners say the directive should apply up to 370 km offshore, covering the area where the government claims fisheries and mineral rights. They also argue that several other EU member states interpret the directive more liberally than the UK does.
Greenpeace says the wildlife in the affected area needs protection, and it is especially concerned about the north-east Atlantic, where it says oil exploration threatens cetaceans and deep water corals.
Challenge to Blair
Peter Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace-UK, said: "We are currently in the ridiculous position of giving whales and dolphins less protection than the medicinal leech.
"This case has the backing of Britain's largest wildlife groups and is a direct challenge to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to deliver on his promise to put the environment at the heart of policy making."
It says the activity would be locally damaging to wildlife, and globally damaging by encouraging the burning of more fossil fuel, which could accelerate the onset of climate change.
If the government lost the case, it would have to conduct a full environmental assessment of marine life, identify areas of specially high wildlife value, and ensure adequate protection for vulnerable species and habitats. Greenpeace says work it has done with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has identified 22 cetacean species in the north-east Atlantic, including the very rare blue whale and the fin whale.
The Greenpeace case is supported by several other groups, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the World Wide Fund for Nature, and the Wildlife Trusts.