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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Plans to protect UK countryside
The government plans to enhance habitats
Plans to better protect and manage wildlife and habitats and to increase support for rural communities have been unveiled in the Queen's Speech.

These will be contained in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities bill.

Landscapes will also be enhanced and conserved to build thriving rural towns and villages - plans outlined last year in the government's Rural Strategy.

Under the bill, a single body, called Natural England, will be created to manage the environment.

This will be created by fusing English Nature, parts of the Countryside Agency and most of the Rural Development Service. The new organisation will be established by January 2007, subject to parliamentary agreement.

The government says this would establish a powerful champion for landscape and conservation working "for people, places and nature" and will be responsible for issues of access, recreation and quality of life.

Rural advocate

The bill will also establish a new Commission for Rural Communities to act as an advocate and watchdog for rural people and to ensure government policy delivers improvements for them.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) broadly welcomed the announcement, but expressed concerns about how the organisation would work.

Tom Oliver, head of rural policy at CPRE, commented: "We very much welcome the opportunity the government is providing to ensure both the countryside and the wildlife that inhabits it is properly protected.

"But the effectiveness of the legislation depends on the clarity and robustness of the legal duties given to the new agency and on the degree of independence it has from central and regional government."

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said the bill, along with three others, would improve wildlife protection and help the government meet targets for halting biodiversity loss.

Martin Harper, head of government affairs at RSPB, commented: "Occasionally, some very valuable legislation can in the end be left out. We are very pleased that the three bills that primarily concern us are in, but given the big legislative programme announced today, we'll be even more pleased when they come out the other side."



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