Good news at last for basking sharks, bluebells and voles

Click to follow
BASKING sharks and bluebells were among 32 native British wildlife species granted extra legal protection by the Government yesterday as it widened the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

In three weeks it will also become an offence to sell or advertise for sale bluebells which have been taken from the wild - although cultivated plants are exempt.

Ministers have acted in response to a long running campaign against firms which dig up wild bulbs and sell them in nurseries. Bluebells are still common but declining and if the climate continues to warm they could be replaced by plants better suited to higher spring temperatures.

''We're delighted that the law has been changed in this way,'' said Jane Smart, director of the conservation charity Plantlife. The maximum fine for selling wild bluebells will be pounds 1,000.

The basking shark, the world's second largest fish, gets full protection from being hunted, captured, sold or advertised, on pain of a fine of up to pounds 5,000. It appears off the west coast of Scotland and the Isle of Man each summer, where it filters plankton through its vast gills. Its UK numbers appear to be falling, and while no British fishermen take this harmless giant those from Norway do. There is strong demand for its fin, used in Oriental soups.

Michael Meacher, the environment minister, announced that 11 animal species, 12 plants, one lichen and four fungi would now be given protection under the Act.

These include the water vole, which is rapidly declining due to predation by mink introduced from North America, and the stag beetle, one of Britain's largest insects. Its larvae live in rotting wood and it is named for its fearsome-looking jaws which resemble a stag's antlers.

A further four species already given some protection by the Act receive more - a small estuarine fish called the allis shad, the marsh fritillary butterfly, the large copper butterfly, and the pearl mussel.

A ban on collecting and selling the pearl mussel came into effect yesterday, without any warning period. This was because the Government feared a last minute rush by collectors to beat any deadline. This mussel, found in freshwater streams, grows up to five inches long, lives up to 30 years, and has declined due to people searching for pearls.

But a moth called vipers bugloss was removed from the list of protected species because it is now almost certainly extinct in Britain.

Conservation groups welcomed the new protection but Simon Lyster, head of the Wildlife Trusts, said: ''The Act itself is in urgent need of a facelift.'' Plantlife said it had loopholes; for instance, damage or destruction to a protected plant is only illegal if it is intentional.

The green groups say there is an urgent need to beef up legislation protecting entire habitats rather than individual species, and to place more duties on landowners in charge of precious wildlife sites to protect them.