MPs want English Nature to get tough

English Nature, the Government's nature conservation body, has come under attack from MPs who suggest it could do a better job of looking after wildlife sites.

The influential Public Accounts Committee said yesterday that it had concerns about the way in which English Nature was protecting and managing the 3,800 Government-designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England.

These areas, which range in size from less than one acre to thousands of acres, have been chosen because they have unusual, rare or rich collections of plants and animals or interesting rocks. Most are in the hands of private landowners, many of whom are paid in return for managing them in a way which conserves the wildlife interest. English Nature has powers to prosecute landowners who knowingly damage SSSIs or to obtain Government Nature Conservation Orders which outlaw damaging activities at a named site. ''Over the last seven years there have been 1,005 cases of loss and damage but only nine prosecutions (and) 18 Orders are in place,'' the report says.

''Given the extent of damage to sites, we believe that English Nature should not be reluctant to prosecute or apply for Nature Conservation Orders where appropriate,'' the MPs state.

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