Motorway to slice through meadows

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The Independent Online
Environmental groups condemned William Hague, the new Secretary of State for Wales, yesterday after he announced he was going ahead with a motorway project that will damage important wildlife sites.

The 15-mile, pounds 330m stretch of the M4 will bypass Newport in south Wales, skirting south of the town through the Gwent Levels. The motorway now runs through Newport, with little scope for widening to cope with increased traffic.

Approval of the equally controversial Newbury by-pass was the final act last week of the outgoing Secretary of State for Transport, Brian Mawhinney.

The Gwent Levels are meadows drained by ditches permanently filled with water. These support rare aquatic plants such as the frogbit and arrowhead. There are 115 scarce invertebrates, including the hairy dragonfly. Lapwings, redshank, and snipe nest there. Much of the levels are in government-designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The new road will cut through four of them.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Friends of the Earth and the World Wide Fund for Nature condemned the decision to go ahead with what the RSPB called "one of the most environmentally damaging road proposals in the UK at present".

A public inquiry is likely. The Welsh Office wants work to begin in about four years.