'Wildlife cops' in Prescott package to aid rural Britain

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The Independent Online

A National wildlife crime unit is to be set up under the Government's rural white paper to crack down on the destruction of wild plants and animals.

A National wildlife crime unit is to be set up under the Government's rural white paper to crack down on the destruction of wild plants and animals.

The unit will bring together intelligence and other information on wildlife crime across Britain to help police and the RSPCA carry out successful operations against criminals.

A leaked draft of the white paper, obtained by the Independent on Sunday, also signals moves to protect villages by charging owners of second homes the full rate for council tax. Local authorities are to be given discretion to abolish the 50 per cent discount on council tax on second homes.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, won a battle over the plan with Downing Street which feared its impact on voters in "middle England".

The rural white paper says new homes in the countryside should be allowed, but should be concentrated around market towns. Developers of smaller estates around villages will be required to include affordable housing for local people.

Hard-hit farmers will be helped to diversify through a relaxation on planning rules on property, allowing them, for example, to establish equestrian centres or IT businesses on their land.

The ministerial veto over the development of the "best and most versatile" farmland will vanish, with councils given total charge over planning decisions, although strict controls will be kept in national parks.

As part of a strategy for protecting Britain's threatened rural landscape, including its wildlife and marine sites, farmers will be required to conduct an environmental impact assessment before they begin ploughing up downland.

New curbs on quarrying in the countryside will include tougher environmental tests on existing, long-term quarries.

Legislation will also be introduced to protect commons, which though for years have been covered by ancient laws, such as grazing rights, now face pressures including deregistration. A review of town and village greens is also to be carried out.

The rural white paper will promise measures to cut down noise and lighting "pollution" in the countryside, mainly by laying more low-noise road surfaces and introducing new road lights that direct the glow down towards the roadway.

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