Call to shield snail sites from by-pass

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Pressure increased yesterday on the Government to ensure that the proposed Newbury by-pass does not damage a snail colony, following a recommendation from English Nature to declare part of the site a nature reserve.

At a meeting of its council earlier this month, English Nature, which advises the Government on wildlife matters, decided to recommend the Government to set up a "Special Area for Conservation" to protect two colonies of the tiny Desmoulin's whorl snail. This would mean that the site would be protected from development under European law.

Friends of the Earth says that two of the eight colonies of the snail on the floodplains of the rivers Kennet and Lambourn are affected by the by-pass route. The sites were protected when preparatory work was carried out earlier this year to clear the path of the new road. The Department of the Environment is thought to be looking at ways of ensuring the road can be built without damaging the habitats before making an official announcement about English Nature's recommendation.

Alternatively, the Government could press ahead with the road irrespective of the damage caused to the habitats, by arguing that the construction is of national economic importance.

However, Tony Juniper, deputy campaigns director of Friends of the Earth, said that such a decision would be challenged in the European courts:

"If the Government had carried out a proper environmental impact assessment in the first place, it would not be in this ridiculous position now. The information now available on the snails should have been collected earlier and heard at the 1988 public inquiry into the scheme."