The UK was one of the first countries to submit its list of proposed Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to the EU, when it did so in June (see related story), but it was criticised by the UK chapter of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-UK) and Friends of the Earth (FoE) for not nominating enough sites to protect endangered species adequately.

“The meeting was an opportunity for all member states to compare how they had nominated their SACs and we said that we would see what we can do about increasing our number of sites,” a Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions spokesperson told edie. “It will be an open discussion. There will be a dialogue with the NGOs, and species’ habitats that have been excluded in the current 340 proposed SACs will be considered.”

The meeting was sponsored by a part of the European Environment Agency, the European Topic Centre on Nature Conservation. The Topic Centre presented the UK Government with its list of shortcomings in habitat protection, and WWF-UK presented its case as well. According to WWF-UK’s planning officer, who spoke with edie, 28 habitats and at least seven species must be protected in addition to the sites already proposed in June.

A mere 3.4% of Britain’s land mass was nominated for SAC protection in June, while Denmark and the Netherlands have nominated sites that cover between 7-8%.

SACs are protected from housing and industrial development, and environmental groups have identified the EU SAC scheme as providing more stringent protection than UK designations, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The UK Government will have to present additional SAC sites at the next Atlantic Biogeographic Meeting, planned for June 2000. “They really have to get going on this in the next six months,” said WWF-UK’s Hatton. “We don’t know how many sites will be added, but we think that about three times the present 340 nominated sites would be adequate.”

FoE has published figures that suggest the UK is “bottom of the international league table for wildlife protection”. Using UN data, FoE argues that the UK has no land that meets strict protection criteria and that developing world countries like Burkina Faso, Kenya, Brazil and Ecuador have been more careful about allocating land for strict wildlife protection.

Less strong-worded criticism of the UK’s track record in wildlife conservation has come from the Countryside Agency. The Agency’s chairman, Ewen Cameron, has called on the Government to provide it with increased powers and additional resources to protect AONBs from damage and degradation. Cameron was speaking at the first national conference of the Association for AONBs.

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