New danger to wetlands

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GOVERNMENT RED tape is putting the country's most important water meadows in peril, a leading wildlife campaigner claimed yesterday.

Graham Wynne, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told a conference in London that a lack of co-ordination between Government departments and agencies was leaving many of these areas too dry for birds and wild animals. He said wetlands were a vital part of the countryside, controlling floods, providing grazing and playing host to a wide variety of wild plants and animals.

Surveys by the society have shown that species such as snipe and redshank had suffered declines of more than 50 per cent in the past 10-15 years. Once a common farmland bird, snipe are now almost extinct outside wildlife reserves. On the Somerset Levels their numbers have dropped by 79 per cent in 20 years. The RSPB believes farmers' preference for dry ground has left land too hard for wading birds like the snipe to feed their young.

Mr Wynne said landowners were given grants to raise water levels in Somerset but the job was not being done properly. "A new study shows that a combination of neglect, sluices not checked for leaks and even sabotage means public money is literally going down the drain. There havemore frequent checks on sluices and water levels."

The RSPB had called the conference to urge Government departments and agencies to work together to save the valuable wetlands. The society said that eight years ago the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods ordered the drawing up of water level management plans but fewer than half the schemes were completed by the 1998 deadline.