Greenpeace wins court battle to protect ocean

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The Independent Online

The environmental campaign group Greenpeace today won a dramatic victory when the High Court gave a ruling which will force the Government to protect a unique marine world of whales, dolphins and rare deep-sea coral in the north-east Atlantic from being damaged by the oil industry.

The environmental campaign group Greenpeace today won a dramatic victory when the High Court gave a ruling which will force the Government to protect a unique marine world of whales, dolphins and rare deep-sea coral in the north-east Atlantic from being damaged by the oil industry.

Mr Justice Maurice Kay ruled that the Government had failed properly to apply the EU Habitats Directive and wrongly restricted its impact to territorial waters extending only 12 nautical miles from the coast.

The judge declared that the directive applied up to 200 nautical miles from the mainland - affecting areas which are due to be explored for oil and gas.

He ruled that the Government cannot lawfully grant oil exploration licences without considering the possible harmful effects on wildlife, as required by the directive.

Greenpeace executive director Lord Peter Melchett said: "It is a huge victory for whales, dolphins and other wildlife in the Atlantic.

"It means wildlife is going to be protected and the Government is going to have to act."

But the judge gave the government permission to challenge his ruling in the Court of Appeal after being told it was "of major importance".

Today's victory will come as a blow to 10 of the world's leading gas and oil companies, which joined Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in opposing the Greenpeace application for judicial review.

But the ruling will be warmly welcomed by the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), who all supported Greenpeace.

During a four-day hearing Greenpeace had accused the Government of failing to take steps to safeguard "vulnerable jewels of the natural world".

Mr Nigel Pleming QC, appearing for the environmentalists, told the court the area under threat contained reefs of the rare and beautiful deep water coral "lophelia pertusa", which supported a rich variety of undersea life.

Oil and gas deposits were thought to exist under the sea bed and the area was now at the centre of proposals for a new round - the 19th - for licensing oil exploration and production.

Today Mr Justice Kay accepted his argument that the Government had "failed to give full effect" to the EU Habitats Directive and must now fully take it into account.

Oil companies fear the ruling could lead to delays and added costs in the task of exploring for oil on what is known at the Atlantic Frontier.

Greenpeace says the area is "the most important in Europe" for whales and dolphins.

The judge said Greenpeace had failed to bring its legal challenge promptly - but the importance of the case and "the public interest" meant that it should be allowed to go ahead.

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