Boost for English, Welsh, protected sites

Government proposes new powers for conservation agencies to safeguard valuable habitats

Sites in England and Wales designated because of their wildlife value will receive stronger protection under a law proposed by the government on Friday. The law, whose main theme is improving public rights of access to the countryside, will also strengthen general wildlife protection, including stronger penalties for offences.

Areas designated as sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) cover 1m hectares in England and almost 0.25m hectares in Wales. The land is in the hands of tens of thousands of different owners, and conservation groups have long been calling for legal means to protect them from damage. The new law will allow official conservation agencies responsible for the sites in each region to tackle the problem of third party damage to SSSIs and to require public bodies that own SSSIs to manage and conserve them. Courts will be able to order restoration of damaged sites.

Chairman of English Nature, responsible for England's SSSIs, hailed the new law as "one of the most significant improvements in the fortunes of England's wildlife".

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 20 79 44 30 00; English Nature, tel: +44 1733 455190. See also the Countryside and rights of way bill.

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