Autumn budget: county’s wildlife under threat

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THE RSPB is standing up for vital environmental legislation which protects Sussex’s most important wildlife sites after they came under attack from Chancellor George Osborne in the Autumn budget statement.

The society says the Habitats Regulations, which were brought in by a Conservative Government in 1994 in order to implement the European Habitats Directive, ensure major developments do not destroy our most important wildlife sites.

The Chancellor commented the burden of ‘endless social and environmental goals’ on industry and described the Habitats Regulations as a ‘ridiculous cost on British business’, claiming that they amounted to ‘gold plating’ on European legislation.

Defra is now set to carry out a review of the regulations.

The regulations were brought in to ensure the proper protection of the wildlife habitats of international importance such as Sussex’s coastal estuaries and harbours like Chichester and the chalk downland of the South Downs which stretches from Beachy Head in East Sussex to the Itchen Valley in Hampshire.

They cover Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) which support a significant proportion of the UK’s wildlife including threatened species such as dartford warblers, bitterns, wintering wildfowl and waders and rare butterflies such as Adonis blue.

Sam Dawes, Conservation manager for the RSPB in the south east, said: “The Chancellor’s attack on vital environmental regulation is below the belt and shows how short sighted his policy for growth is.

“These regulations have been in place for 17 years and they have not been a brake on development. Many large scale projects have gone ahead in that time and this legislation has ensured that they have not trashed some of our most important wildlife sites.”

The society says regulations are vital in ensuring the necessary checks and balances are in place when deciding on development proposals such as housing and airports.

It adds that before the regulations came into force, many environmentally damaging developments were allowed to proceed, leading to the loss of many heathlands to housing and the destruction of wildlife rich mud flats which are important feeding grounds for thousands of wading birds.

Sam added: “The regulations came in during the 1990s after decades when unconstrained development had led to a spiral of decline in the environment.

“We thought those dark days were behind us, but clearly the Chancellor believes that he can bring about a quick fix of the economy by allowing unrestrained growth to trample over our precious natural environment.”

“The Treasury’s plan is a simple one – let’s build our way out of recession. This marks the biggest backward step in environmental and planning policy for a generation and would simply serve as a short term economic sticking plaster on a problem which requires a long term plan for effective, sustainable growth.”