Wildlife campaign targets top Tories

NICHOLAS SCHOON

Nine government-designated wildlife sites in John Major's Huntingdon constituency have been damaged recently or are under threat, Friends of the Earth claimed yesterday.

The environmental group has found a total of 25 sites of special scientific interest which are endangered or damaged in the constituencies of four top Conservatives - the Prime Minister, his deputy, Michael Heseltine, the party chairman Brian Mawhinney and John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment.

Friends of the Earth carried out the research to give weight to its campaign for a parliamentary bill strengthening the protection of SSSIs. Designated by government ecologists, there are some 6,000 of them across Britain with most in private ownership.

Each year about 300 are damaged by neglect, bad management, pollution, leisure use or development, but prosecutions are extremely rare. In some cases, local councils and the Government give planning permission for developments knowing they will harm SSSIs.

Friends of the Earth is planning to produce a Doomsday list later this year of all the SSSIs which have suffered damage or are likely to be damaged.

In Mr Major's constituency sites at Brampton Meadows and Little Paxton Wood are threatened by proposals to build new stretches of the A1(M) motorway. And at Great Stukeley railway cutting SSSI near Huntingdon, the most northerly haunt of the great green bush cricket, will be partly lost when a furniture factory is extended.

The most common cause of damage at the 25 sites in the four constituencies is neglect, principally a lack of grazing which prevents scrub and trees invading increasingly scarce, wildflower-rich grasslands.

Tony Juniper, a Friends campaigner, said: "These sites are being trashed or are in danger right under the noses of the most senior people in Government." The Friends hope to persuade an MP to take up the Wildlife Bill it has drafted.

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