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Wildlife law leaves rare species out

Britain’s wildlife is to be left out in the cold by a mammoth piece of environmental legislation currently too weak to protect many of the UK’s at-risk species and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

As it stands, the Environmental Liability Directive will exclude 375 of the UK’s priority species including scarce farmland birds, red squirrels and water voles, and 2,400 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

A three-month consultation on the Environmental Liability Directive (ELD) is now starting, prior to the directive becoming law. The legislation is designed to prevent environmental damage, caused for example by chemical spills, GM crops and industrial work, and force those responsible to pay for damage when it occurs.

The consultation starts almost a year to the day after the Buncefield oil depot fire in Hemel Hempstead. A fire such as this elsewhere could do extensive damage to the environment and is another example of the type of disaster that the ELD is designed to protect against.

Sandy Luk, the RSPB’s expert on the directive, said: “The UK Government is doing as little as it can to implement the directive – this means that our wildlife and the sites on which many vulnerable species depend will miss out on further protection.

“Almost 80 per cent of wildlife subject to government action plans is excluded from the directive and so is more than 20 per cent of SSSIs, which are the pillars of our nature conservation. It would be a tragedy if wildlife and site protection were undermined because this new legislation was too weak.”

There is extensive scope for the Government to beef up the ELD before it becomes law in Britain and the RSPB is urging ministers to strengthen the legislation.

Sandy Luk said: “The principle of the directive is that polluters should pay for their damage and the Government should honour that principle. But the new consultation document shows that ministers are unwilling to do so, even though their own studies show that it would be worth it.”

The consultation is one of only two opportunities to strengthen the new law. A second review is due next spring but once on the statute books, subsequent improvements will be much more difficult to bring about.

It is likely that the UK will miss the April 30, 2007 deadline for making the directive law, which would mean the UK breaching EU rules.

Cath Harris | alfa
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