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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 04:48 GMT 05:48 UK
UK 'failing on many key habitats'
The Cairngorms
The Cairngorms have been given priority status as a wildlife habitat
The UK is failing to protect many of its most vulnerable habitats and species, a government advisory group has warned.

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee said 90% of key habitats and 50% of species at risk were affected.

The group is carrying out an audit of habitats and species identified by the EU as vulnerable, rare or endangered.

Conservation groups said the research was "alarming". The government said it would comment when the audit was over.

Under the EU's habitats directive, 500 sites in the UK have been identified as important for rare, endangered or vulnerable plants or wildlife.

Priority sites

The idea behind earmarking the sites, known as the Natura 2000 network, had been to ensure they were protected from the start of the millennium.

But there are now 170 in the UK considered so vulnerable they have been given priority status.

They include the coastal lagoons of the Fleet in Dorset, the north Norfolk coast and the Caledonian forests of the Cairngorms.

Conservation groups say the initial findings are "terrible" show the government is failing to protect vulnerable sites.

The government said it would comment on the findings once the consultation process is over later this year.

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