Right of Reply: The Friends of the Earth director replies to our description of their claim that Britain is bottom of the world league for wildlife protection as `cheerful nonsense'

"CHEERFUL NONSENSE" is how The Independent yesterday described our report concluding that Britain comes bottom of the international league for wildlife protection.

But we refuse to apologise for it. Xenophobes and leader writers might find it hard to believe we give our top wildlife sites less priority than do France, Italy or Japan, but it is the sad truth. What Italians do with their shotguns, or the Japanese with their harpoons, is a separate question and not the subject of our report.

Wildlife in Britain is declining at a frightening rate. Dozens of species have become extinct, from the mouse-eared bat to the dense-flowered orchid. Bird populations have been devastated; the corn bunting down by three- quarters, and the tree sparrow by almost nine-tenths in the last 25 years. This destruction has been caused principally by the loss of the habitats on which wildlife depends.

About half our ancient woodlands have been lost.

Lowland heathland has declined by 70 per cent, and lowland wildflower meadows by 97 per cent. As things stand, our children will inherit a countryside stripped of wildlife by intensive farming and development; they will know only the "silent spring" the famous US environmentalist Rachel Carson forecast 40 years ago.

New Labour took office promising to be "the first truly green Government ever". Yet, two years later, there has not been a single significant piece of legislation. Environment Minister Michael Meacher has made the right noises. But Mr Blair sits firmly astride the path of progress.

Britain's Sites of Special Scientific Interest continue to suffer. Our children are likely to remember with contempt the government that allowed the destruction of our countryside and wildlife to continue.

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