'Government threat to wildlife' challenged: Exclusion of mudflats from special protection order breaches European law, says RSPB

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A GOVERNMENT decision to exclude mudflats in the estuary of the river Medway in Kent from a special protection order on economic grounds is to be challenged in a High Court test case.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds yesterday won leave to seek a judicial review, accusing the Government of seeking to undermine European directives aimed at preserving natural wildlife habitats.

Mr Justice Sedley said the case should be heard as a matter of urgency after being told that both the RSPB and the Government wanted the law clarified as soon as possible on whether sites can be excluded from designated special protection areas (SPAs) on economic grounds.

The RSPB will argue the Government was in breach of European law when it decided that the Medway Estuary SPA should not include Lappel Bank, a haunt of wildfowl and wading birds.

The Government decided the exclusion of the 22 hectares of mudflats was justified because to include them would interfere with proposals for the development of the port of Sheerness.

Mike Clarke, RSPB regional officer, said: 'We see this as a crucial national issue . . . the case will challenge the validity of the Government's approach to designating and protecting international wildlife sites.'

(Photograph omitted)