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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 10:36 GMT
Wetland disaster warning
Norfolk Broads
The Norfolk Broads are just one of the wetlands said to be at threat
Some of the country's most precious wetlands could dry up unless more water supplies are made available, an environmental group has warned.

It warns that more than 500 wetlands in England and Wales, including the Norfolk Broads and Lake Windermere in Cumbria, face destruction because too much water is being taken to supply homes and businesses.

The WWF, the global environment network, claims that the habitats have long been undervalued.

It says policies for their protection or restoration are inadequate and time is now running out.

It is calling on the government to ensure water companies pump cash into a series of improvements to ease the already stretched water resources in the south and east of England.

Defra is presiding over a catastrophe of its own making
Rob Oates, WWF

Rob Oates, rivers and wetlands officer for WWF, said: "With the pressures for new housing in the south east increasing the demand for more water, and no national strategy to protect our wetlands, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is presiding over a catastrophe of its own making.

"Defra must ensure that water companies fund the five-year programme of environmental improvements as proposed by the Environment Agency and English Nature.


"This would cost bill payers on average the price of just one can of fizzy drink per household per week."

He fears that endangered native species like white clawed crayfish could become extinct if the habitats are lost and warned even common species such as sticklebacks and lapwings could be wiped out.

England lags behind Estonia, Latvia, Hungary and Bulgaria for its management of its natural heritage in the WWF's newly commissioned Water and Wetland Index 11.

The lack of a co-ordinated strategy to protect wetlands or restore the 70% which are estimated to have been lost due to human activities is criticised by the report, as is the absence of an national inventory of wetlands.

However the Thames Region was praised by the report as one of only two areas where the Environment Agency and Thames Water company have developed a wetland strategy.

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