Yesterday, three new Ramsar sites - internationally important wetlands - were announced, to mark the occasion of World Wetlands Day (report, 2 February) and, no doubt, to demonstrate the Government's commitment to protecting wetlands.

This commitment will soon be tested over plans to develop part of the Thames Marshes. Rainham Marsh is the largest remaining fragment of grazing marsh in London and is vitally important for a wide range of wildlife. It is subject to a planning application from English Partnerships, the Government's regeneration agency, for 90 hectares of unspecified commercial development. If the application is successful, it will be the largest single loss of a protected site in England since the wildlife law that should protect it was passed in 1981.

The proposed development would be a scandalous misuse of public money with, we understand, at least pounds 16m being spent to put a nationally valuable wildlife site under concrete. It would completely overturn the Government's commitment to enhance and re-create grazing marsh as part of the UK's Biodiversity Action Plan and is opposed by the Government's own statutory advisers, English Nature and the Environment Agency.

The decision as to whether or not this national wildlife treasure will be lost for ever will be the Deputy Prime Minister's. Allowing it to be lost would destroy our government's environmental credibility. To allow the development to proceed with government money would compound the error. We call upon the Deputy Prime Minister to remain true to the manifesto promise to bring the environment to the heart of all policy.


Chief Executive, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds


Executive Director, Friends of the Earth


Director General, The Wildlife Trust

Sandy, Bedfordshire