Action to save plants and animals promised

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ACTION plans to save dozens of British wild plants and animals threatened with extinction will be drawn up within the next 10 years, the Government promised.

Biodiversity - The UK Action Plan also says, for the first time, that the Government should commit itself to reversing the decline in wildlife over the next two decades.

It proposed specific targets for increasing the size and quality of some of the most damaged, threatened habitats - such as ancient Caledonian pinewoods and lowland heathland - and building up the population of species like the dormouse and stone curlew.

But the plan only states that the Government, along with voluntary groups, 'should' rather than would adopt such targets. The plan proposes that 'specific, costed targets for key species and habitats' should be published next year.

The type of action needed is to buy land, or pay landowners to manage it in a way which favours the threatened wildlife. Some money is also needed to monitor and protect the habitats, but the total sums involved are modest - in some cases spending pounds 100,000 can secure the survival of a species.

The report commits the Government to increasing the number of threatened species covered by a 'recovery programme' by five each year. The programme is run by English Nature, the Government's wildlife conservation arm, and so far embraces 23 species, including the wartbiter cricket and natterjack toad.

But for the most part, the document presents commitments and policies announced earlier. Much of the ground is covered by the European Union's habitats directive, which Britain is legally bound to implement.

Tim Cordy, chief executive of the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, said: 'The nation's track record needs to improve - we must all play our part but government has a lead role.' Friends of the Earth said the Government should put more effort into helping Third World countries protect their biodiversity - the richness and variety of plant and animal species.

All four documents available from HMSO (071 873 9090): Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy; pounds 22.00; Climate Change: The UK Programme; pounds 10.00; Biodiversity: The UK Action Plan; pounds 18.50; Sustainable Forestry: The UK Programme; pounds 6.50.

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