Bird haven `destroyed illegally'

Click to follow
The Government illegally destroyed a haven for wildlife by turning it into a car storage park, the European Court's advocate-general declared yesterday.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has won the first step in its battle in the Luxembourg court to establish that governments cannot take account of economic requirements when classifying Special Protection Zones or determining their boundaries.

The important test case concerns Lappel Bank on the River Medway in Kent, part of a "wetland of international importance" and home to rare bird species protected under European law, which was turned into a huge car park to store Japanese cars imported through the adjoining port of Sheerness.

In a court hearing earlier this year, the Government claimed there were "overwhelming economic reasons" for excluding Lappel Bank from the 4,600 hectares of the Medway estuary and marshes, a wetland noted for a range of wildfowl species. But lawyers for the European Commission, backing the RSPB, declared yesterday it was a classic case of "development versus conservation".

The interim finding, which is not binding on the full court when it rules in the summer, said member states are not entitled to take account of economic requirements when classifying Special Protection Areas or determining their boundaries. It is a huge boost for the RSPB, which lost its case in the United Kingdom courts. The final outcome will be too late for Lappel Bank, where the mudflats have already been concreted over, but the victory could prevent a repeat. .

Barbara Young, chief executive of the RSPB, said: "This is one in the eye for the Government. It has justifiably got a bloody nose."