Plans by English Nature to remove special protection from nearly 600 hectares of Thorne and Hatfield Moors, near Doncaster in South Yorkshire, have come under fire from wildlife campaigners.
English Nature says that the land in question does not meet the criteria for designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's). Campaigners say that if this is so, then English Nature has a lot of explaining to do.
The plans were revealed this morning at a meeting in Doncaster of the Thorne and Hatfield Conservation Forum. Brian Eversham, Co-Chair of the Forum said, "This decision by English Nature's Council, was apparently reached on the basis of a faxed summary of a report which has not yet been written. The whole review is illogical. It does not take account of all the issues relating to the wildlife value of Thorne and Hatfield Moors".
Stephen Warburton, Conservation Manager of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust said, "The timing of this review is appalling. There is already a review going on of the planning consent, which allows peat to be mined. Removing SSSI status, on even a small part, could undermine delicate negotiations. It would also remove what little protection for wildlife there is on part of Thorne Moors".
Nicki Whitehouse, a Peatland researcher at Sheffield University, pointed out that the area proposed to lose SSSI protection at Hatfield Moors actually has a greater depth of peat remaining than that area which would remain protected. "Why was this area of deep peat chosen to lose protection?" she asked. "Deeper peat has a significant archaeological interest and importance."
Tim de Winton of the RSPB said, "The future is bleak for our last remaining peatlands if we cannot protect these, our two most important sites."
Brian Eversham, who is a noted expert on peatland ecology, expressed great concern at the reasons for English Nature's plans. "If peat milling stops today, the exposed peat would be covered with plants within two years", he said. "Those areas would become key habitats for Nightjars and invertebrates."
He also reminded English Nature that the Forum has been calling for a much larger area of the moors to be declared as SSSI since the 1970s. "We need a bigger area protected, not less", he said.
Thorne and Hatfield Moors are internationally important wildlife sites. Thorne Moor is the largest remaining lowland raised peat mire in Britain. Its 1900 hectares are home to rare plants, such as Bog Rosemary, Bog Myrtle, Bladderwort and Marsh Cinquefoil. Lizards, adders and the very rare Large Heath butterfly make their homes there, whilst the birdlife includes breeding Nightingales and an internationally important population of Nightjars, a ground nesting bird which needs open habitats to breed upon. Over 5000 plants and animals are found on the two moors.
The plans are for 100 hectares on the north-east side of Thorne Moors to be de-notified as SSSI's and for 490 hectares, or 35% of the total area of Hatfield Moors to be de-notified. At Thorne Moors, a 500 metre buffer zone between the vegetated area and the new SSSI boundary is proposed. On Hatfield Moor, the buffer will be just 300 metres.
Prof. David Bellamy, who has campaigned for many years to protect Britain's remaining peatlands, said, "Removing SSSI protection from the peatlands won't make sense. In fact, we should be giving extra real protection. We have a duty to preserve these internationally important sites. Without protection, all the peat could be removed, completely destroying any chance of the peatland habitat re-establishing itself. English Nature should be looking for stronger protection for Britain's last peatlands, not less."
"Any suggestion of de-notification shows the weakness of conservation law and the SSSI system in particular. These prime SSSI's should never have been allowed to be in a state where protection is even questioned", he said.
Information Officer Yorkshire Wildlife Trust 259 South Street Rotherham South Yorkshire S61 2NW
Tel & Fax: 01709 558561
Pete Bowler and Stephen Warburton can be contacted on 0385 750707
Nicki Whitehouse on 0114 2222921 (22225021)
Brian Eversham on 01487 773381
Tim de Winton on 01484 861148
Lionel Grooby on 01652 634502
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