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Water Week Monday, 23 March, 1998, 23:08 GMT
Campaigners claim beauty spots 'at risk'
pond
Some environmentalists fear that the water companies are damaging the countryside
Environmental campaigners have complained that dozens of special sites in the countryside have been left off a list that will be used to decide which ones will be protected in the future.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) has said that numerous wetland areas that provide habitats for unique birds and plants were not included on the list sent to Ofwat, the water industry's regulator, by the Environment Agency.

The list is to be used to decide which sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) should have money spent on them to prevent over-abstraction by water-companies, which is the process of removing water for domestic or industrial use.

FOE is urging the Environment Minister Michael Meacher to ensure that all the sites are looked after.

"It is horrifying to learn that the government has abandoned dozens of our best wildlife sites ... Ofwat and the government are so obsessed with cost cutting that they have totally forgotten their duty to the environment," said Matt Phillips of Friends of the Earth.

Water companies deny damage

But Mike Walker, head of policy at the Water Companies Association said: "The idea that water companies abstract from these sites is wrong. We only take the water we need to meet demand ... Water companies are keen to help the environment."

Mr Walker also said that it was vital the price of water was not cut in the future because this would mean that water companies would have less money to spend on protecting the environment.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, said that ministers would consider how much should be spent on preserving these special sites and would advise Ofwat in July.

One of the sites that Friends of the Earth say are under threat is Hewell Park Lake in Hereford and Worcester, where it is feared that abstraction has led to a decline in the reed warblers and the great crested glebe.

Also on the list is the Kennet and Lambourn floodplain in Berkshire, home to the Desmoulin whorl snail.

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