17 August 2001

East Anglia estates put block on RSPB wardens

ROYAL Society for the Protection of Birds wardens have been banned from land owned by two large estates in East Anglia.

The ban follows angry exchanges between the RSPB and farmers over the societys role in the designation of a new Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which imposes stringent controls on farming.

Straddling the Norfolk-Suffolk border, the Breckland Farmland SSSI covers more than 12,000ha (30,000 acres) of land, including large areas owned by the Elveden and Euston estates.

The estates, with more than 80 other land holdings, have co-operated voluntarily with the RSPB in a project aimed at helping the rare stone curlew, by identifying and protecting nests from agricultural machinery and predators.

It has been successful in boosting bird populations and has been held up as an example of how farming and conservation can co-exist. But the governments wildlife adviser, English Nature, has now, with what farmers regard as minimum consultation, designated the land as an SSSI and has given notice of its intention to create a Special Protection Area under the European Birds Directive. Not all of the farmers affected are upset by the move, but some believe the designations are unnecessary and fear they could have an adverse affect on future land use and capital value.

They are particularly incensed because data they supplied to the RSPB was divulged to English Nature in the designation process without the farmers knowledge.

Only eight of the 84 landowners and tenants covered by the SSSI have formally objected, but, as they include Elveden and Euston, the extent of "stone curlew land" involved runs to thousands of acres.

Jim Rudderham, Elveden Estate manager, said: "What is happening in this area is conservation politics, which has nothing to do with practical conservation."

Christopher Spicer, Euston Estate manager, said the designation was "unnecessary" and RSPB wardens had been told they could not have access to the estate while it was in dispute with English Nature.

Rob Lucking, RSPB spokesman, said the society was saddened by the loss of co-operation of landowners.

But he believed the SSSI designation and the payments scheme would be beneficial. &#42