25 June 1998
Officialdom failing to protect
nature sites, says RSPB

By FWi staff

SOME of Englands finest nature sites face slow extinction because of official failure to reform wildlife law, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Almost half of the designated nature sites – known as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) – are in poor condition. Surveys show that over 70% of heathland sites are in “unfavourable conservation status”, while 60% of chalk grasslands are in a poor state.

The RSPB says the spiralling decline in SSSIs has been disastrous for some bird species. Breeding wading birds like snipe, redshank and lapwing have declined by up to 70%, while some SSSIs are so poorly managed that birds do no better on these “protected” sites than off them, it said.

The bittern – one of Englands rarest birds – has crashed from an estimated 80 booming males in the 1950s to only 12 in 1997, despite the fact that virtually all the reedbed habitats they rely on are SSSIs. Nomination of some habitats is very poor; only 14% of ancient woodland has been notified as SSSI and there are only three marine nature reserves in the whole of the UK.

English Nature – the Governments environmental watchdog – is responsible for the management and protection of SSSIs.

The damning analysis of wildlife management in England, Wales and Northern Ireland comes in a new report from the RSPB titled Land for Life. It contains almost 40 detailed case histories where official policy has failed to protect Englands finest wildlife.

Graham Wynne, RSPB chief executive, said: “Serious flaws in our wildlife laws have led to many of our finest nature sites being destroyed, damaged or neglected. Unless wildlife law and funding policy are reformed, our natural heritage will slowly bleed to death and even more animals and plants will become rarities or even disappear altogether.”

  • “Timid” English Nature is failing, Commons inquiry told, FWi, 9 June