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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 13:17 GMT
Chalk horse for entrance to UK
Chalk horse Westbury
The original chalk horse is at Westbury in Wiltshire
A giant white chalk horse is going to be carved into the hillside at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel in Kent.

The transport and local government secretary Stephen Byers gave the controversial project the go ahead despite opposition from environmentalists.

The 300ft long chalk horse was proposed as a millennium project to help regenerate the Folkestone area.

Joanna Lumley
Actress Joanna supported the horse for Folkstone

Based on the tradition of chalk carvings dating back to ancient Celtic times, the idea is to leave a lasting reminder of England to travellers leaving for the continent.

The scheme was strongly promoted by local politicians, including shadow chancellor Michael Howard.

He told the BBC's Today programme that the project had "widespread support" in Folkstone.

"It is a fitting thing for people to see just before they leave England.

This wasn't just a white horse - it's a Trojan horse

Friends of the Earth

"I'm only sorry that Spike Milligan, one of its greatest supporters, didn't live to see it come to fruition."

The horse was opposed by government nature advisors English Nature, who say it will jeopardise rare chalkland wildlife including adonis blue butterflies and spider orchids.

Craig Bennett, of Friends of the Earth, said the site was designated for its conservation importance under the European Habitats Directive (1994).

Friends of the Earth had written to the European Commission asking them to support an investigation, Mr Bennett added.

And he said he was concerned that Mr Byers had rejected English Nature's advice.

'Back door'

"This sets a very dangerous precedent," he told Today.

"It makes us think that this wasn't just a white horse - it's a Trojan horse.

"It could be the back door through which permission is given to airports, ports and roads on wildlife sites."

At a public inquiry last year the scheme was enthusiastically supported by Mr Howard and celebrities including comedian Spike Milligan and Joanna Lumley.


Announcing his decision to approve the project, Mr Byers said the emotional and symbolic value of the white horse outweighed the damage which would be done to nature.

English Nature has expressed disappointment that the scheme is to go ahead, despite an inspector's report detailing the adverse effects on the environment.

Director of operations Dr Andy Clements said: "The inspector has concluded there will be an immediate adverse effect on this European site, because the carving of the White Horse will result in habitat loss."

He said English Nature would work with the site owners to ensure minimum impact to the area.

It also wants to ensure that chalk grassland turfs removed from the site are replanted nearby and maintained.

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