£5.5m to save England's most threatened species

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Schemes to protect natterjack toads, fritillary butterflies and sharks are to receive funding as part of a £5.5 million programme to help some of England's most threatened wildlife, it was announced today.

Birds including cirl buntings and twites will also benefit from the cash, as will wetlands landscapes in various parts of the country and marine species in the Isle of Scilly, Natural England said.

The Government's conservation agency will also fund projects which aim to preserve traditional orchards and moves to restore hedgerows in a bid to help hazel dormice.

The multi-million pound programme aims to help some of England's most threatened species and habitats in a bid to halt the loss of biodiversity, Natural England said.

The money will go to conservation groups including the RSPB, National Trust, Wildlife Trusts and the People's Trust for Endangered Species to carry out the schemes to protect wildlife.

Natural England chairman Sir Martin Doughty said: "We want to improve the fortunes of some of our most precious species and habitats and today's funding will help our conservation partners meet these challenges.

"Cirl buntins, cornflowers, crayfish, orchards and a wide range of other habitats and species including our marine environment will benefit from this extra funding."

The money will go to a series of projects including:

* Conservation of the natterjack toad in Cumbria, where around half of England's populations exist in increasingly isolated pockets along the coast. The Herpetological Conservation Trust will receive £92,000 to help conservation work.

* The RSPB will receive £600,000 for projects across the country, including a cirl bunting reintroduction scheme in the South West and a programme to assist recovery of the twite population in the Pennines.

* A project led by the National Trust will receive £267,000 to conserve and restore traditional orchards - one of the habitats prioritised for conservation under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

* The People's Trust for Endangered Species will receive £180,000 for work to restore hedgerows in a bid to reconnect isolated populations of hazel dormice and reverse the two-thirds decline in the species seen since the 1970s.

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