Hague assuages green anger over Redwood

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THE NEW Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, is acting rapidly to distance himself from his predecessor John Redwood's moves to dismember protection for wildlife and the countryside in the principality.

In his first weeks in office he has repeatedly underlined his concern for the environment and has gone out of his way to make peace with conservationists attacked by his predecessor, and fellow right-winger, who resigned last month to fight John Major for the premiership.

The Welsh Office admits there has been a change of attitude with Mr Hague's arrival and relieved conservationists hope he will gradually reverse Mr Redwood's controversial policies.

Mr Redwood - who last year bracketed environmentalists with "European neo-Nazis" - cut the budget of the principality's official watchdog, the Countryside Council for Wales, (CCW), by a sixth after it had opposed him over several major developments.

He also wanted to stop the council funding country parks or conserving threatened landscapes. Fellow Cabinet ministers described him as "batty" and "out of control".

In an unprecedented initiative, just after taking office this month, Mr Hague signalled the change by visiting the CCW's offices in Bangor. No Welsh Secretary has ever gone to see the CCW before. Mr Redwood used to summon its leaders to his offices.

A senior Welsh Office official says CCW leaders "got a rather more sympathetic ear than in the past - Mr Hague was prepared to listen to what they had to say".

Furthermore, while launching a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) report on the decline of farmyard birds last Monday, he stressed the importance of conservation and on Thursday he is to walk part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path with CCW and RSPB officials.

Ian Mercer, chief executive of the CCW, says he is "much encouraged by the general perception we get of Mr Hague's attitudes".

Similarly Merfyn Williams, director of the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, says: "The Welsh conservation movement is heaving a sigh of relief."