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England's wildlife sites 'better protected now'

Huge improvements have been made in protecting England's best wildlife sites in the past decade, a powerful all-party group of MPs said yesterday – but still more needs to be done.

Only 52 per cent of the 4,000 English Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) – areas of land containing habitats and wildlife which are of national or international importance – were in "favourable or recovering" condition in 2002, but this had increased to 86 per cent by February this year, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reported.

However, the MPs said, greater effort must be made by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Government's wildlife watchdog, Natural England, to manage and monitor the sites, which were first designated in 1949, and have helped conserve rare creatures and landscapes which would otherwise be in danger of extinction.

"All those who love England's wildlife and natural habitats will welcome the news that the reported condition of England's Sites of Special Scientific Interest has improved markedly against the Government's target," said the PAC chairman Edward Leigh. "But the news is not as good as it sounds. The Department and Natural England must do more to manage and monitor the progress of recovering sites."