HL Deb 24 April 1990 vol 518 cc433-6

3.4 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whit progress has been made in designating special protection areas and Ramsar sites in England and Wales, and what importance they attach to international bird conservation.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the Nature Conservancy Council has identified 91 potential special protection areas in England and Wales, of which 22 have so far been designated. Consultations are continuing on the remainder in accordance with Article 2 of the EC directive. The Nature Conservancy Council has also identified 77 potential Ramsar sites in England and Wales, of which 24 have been designated. The Government remain fully committed to international bird conservation and will continue to meet their obligations.

Bareness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. I am greatly encouraged by his remarks about the Government's intentions. There was rather a lot of noise when he started speaking and I did not hear the very first figure that he gave. I hope that it agrees with my figure of 218 notified sites for special protection. Is that correct?

Lord Reay

My Lords, the figure that I gave was that the Nature Conservancy Council has identified 91 potential special protection areas in England and Wales, of which 22 have so far been designated.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, there is a great difference between the figure that I have, which came from the Nature Conservancy Council, and that which the noble Lord has just given. My understanding is that 218 sites have been notified.

Nobles Lords


Baroness Nicol

The question is coming, my Lords. If the figure of 218 is correct, with 33 which we agreed have been designated, why is there such a delay on the remainder? I should like to ask in particular why there is a delay on the Exe estuary. There are no objections to the designation from anyone. Vet that site still remains to be designated.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I cannot explain the difference in the figures that we have at the moment. Nor, I am afraid, can I say anything about the case that the noble Baroness raises. However, I shall be happy to write to her with information about it.

A number of sites proposed by the NCC are currently being considered by the Government. We hope that the next site will be announced as soon as the necessary consultations have been satisfactorily completed.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, has any progress been made on reaching the same standards in Europe as those which we have already established in this country?

Lord Reay

My Lords, our principal concern must be to make sure that we carry out our obligations under the EC directive. We believe that our record in bird conservation is extremely good compared with that of some other countries.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, it is more than 10 years since the Ramsar arrangements were made. I understand that shortly there will be a comparable conference in Switzerland. What announcements does the Minister intend to make at that conference to demonstrate to our European neighbours that we are fulfilling the obligations of the directive?

Will the Minister also acknowledge that a great deal of his work is done by the voluntary bird organisations? What steps is he taking to ensure that the resources that they receive from all sources, including the Government, are maintained in order that they can help him to fulfil his obligations?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am happy to join the noble Lord in paying tribute to the extremely important work that the voluntary bodies do in the field of bird conservation. I have no doubt that they will continue to enjoy government support. I cannot give any promises about any future announcement with regard to Ramsar sites. As I said in a previous answer, sites will be announced as soon as necessary consultations have been completed.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that on my estate in Scotland I have very rare birds, including the white-tailed sea eagle? So far no protection has been offered for these birds. Perhaps I am out of order. If so, I apologise. The Question refers only to England and Wales. It might have been better if it had included Scotland.

Lord Reay

My Lords, my noble friend is right. The Question relates to England and Wales. However, a Question tomorrow on the same subject will relate to Scotland. My noble friend will have an opportunity to make his point again.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, will the Minister agree that, whether one accepts the figures of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, of 218 and 33 designated, or his figures of 91 with 22 designated, it seems a sadly small number? He said that the next batch is in process of being designated. How many will that next batch include? How long will it be before we have completed consideration of those which have been put forward?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I cannot say how many will be in the next batch to be announced or when that may happen. The Government are currently H considering 16, some of which are at a more advanced stage of consultation than others.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that we have a specific as well as a general interest in the observance of these regulations by our neighbour member countries in Europe? Is he also aware that a number of species of birds have to cross Europe from North Africa in order to reach this country? Unless better care is taken, or less slaughter perpetrated by our neighbours, the birds will not arrive here. For instance, the poor little nightingale has a most perilous journey from North Africa, being destroyed on the borders of the Mediterranean as she flies to Europe. We are entirely dependent on our neighbours as to whether the nightingales arrive here. Far too few do so.

Lord Reay

My Lords, my noble friend is right and I am pleased that he made the point.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was greatly encouraged by the assurance that he gave to me in the debate last November on the EC report? It was in response to my observations about the international responsibilities of member states in providing habitat and species protection. Is the Minister also aware that, as has been made clear during the course of our exchanges, many noble Lords are worried about the urgent need for more action before there are further losses to wildlife as a result of the lack of sufficient designation?

Lord Reay

My Lords, in order to ensure that protection is given, even before designation of SPAs and Ramsar sites is made, circular 27/87 requires planning authorities to ensure that potential SPAs are treated as though they were already designated SPAs and to take account of their international significance when considering development proposals. They must do so in order to continue a substantial measure of protection for the sites before designation.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, I find the undertakings given by the Minister today most reasssuring. However, does his response depend on the fact that we maintain a proper scientific base in the Nature Conservancy Council in Great Britain as a whole? Does he agree that the ill thought out ideas of the Government contained in the environment Bill that is soon to come before this House do not hold out much hope for the future and that we shall split our "old Britain" attitude to such matters which is so important and admired by our colleagues on the Continent?

Lord Reay

My Lords, no. I entirely disagree with the noble Lord. We value the scientific advice provided by the Nature Conservancy Council and we hope that it will be able to continue to provide that.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his comments about Continental countries not adhering to regulations sounded courteously negative? Are we not using any influence to ensure that they pay the same attention as us in order to bring about the preservation that is generally considered to be desirable?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we have played a full part in that and also in reaching agreement on the EC directive.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, does the Minister agree that problems which arise as a result of there being users of the countryside other than birds must also be taken into account? Will he commend the decentralisation of the Nature Conservancy Council in order to ensure that there is a local and intimate knowledge of all the factors in designating? Will he also pay compliment to the Forestry Commission for protecting the osprey and, I hope, the capercaillie and other rare species in Scotland?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am happy to note the noble Lord's remarks and to pass them on. I am also grateful for his comment about the Nature Conservancy Council. Of course there are many other interests which must be taken into account and to which the Government are bound to pay heed. For that reason we must proceed carefully when designating the sites.

Lord Renton

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Ramsar sites in France and Italy, which are so important in relation to migration, are being properly observed?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I do not have any information about that but I shall be happy to look into the matter and advise my noble friend.