Picnic for toads and newts

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Conservationists staged a protest picnic yesterday at the site of a rare haven for frogs, toads and newts which they fear is under threat from the same farmer who destroyed a neighbouring wildlife site. Offham Marshes, near Lewes, Sussex, are owned by Justin Harmer who admits it is "an option" to plough them up and plant flax to earn European Union farming subsidies.

Earlier this year he ploughed Offham Down Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a chalk grassland site less than a mile away, under a loophole in European law which has been widely criticised. Tony Blair, as Opposition leader, said such "completely crazy" activities would not be permitted under a Labour government.

Matt Phillips, of Friends of the Earth, yesterday challenged Labour to honour its pre-election pledge on the environment. "Every year hundreds of our best nature sites are destroyed or damaged. The law must be strengthened to ensure they are given better protection."