GeneWatch PR: New Government proposals fail to protect local nature sites from genetic and toxic polluters

25th January 2007

Today, GeneWatch UK is publishing a list of the English Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in each parliamentary constituency that will not be given protection under the Government's plans to implement new EU legislation. The new rules, required under the Environmental Liability Directive (ELD), provide a minimum standard of protection by holding companies liable for polluting the environment.

Each Member State can supplement the ELD to protect species and habitats in their country. The Government is currently running a consultation, until the 16th February, on the level of environmental protection it intends to introduce. The EU's deadline for introducing the obligatory ELD framework is April 2007.

The ELD covers environmental harm that may arise from certain hazardous activities including the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), waste disposal and the discharge of pollutants to water. The Government's plans for England exclude most wildlife species recognised as requiring protection, 375 in total, and over 3,000 SSSIs.

In England, 391 constituencies have at least one SSSI that will not be covered under the Government's proposals. Penrith and the Border constituency tops the list with 86, Skipton and Ripon constituency comes second with 63, and Leominster is third with 62.

The intention of the ELD is to introduce the 'polluter pays' principle. The thinking behind this principle is; by making businesses financially and legally accountable for any environmental damage they cause, they will be more cautious about what they do. It should prevent environmental harm and, if that does not work, the costs of putting things right should be borne by those causing the damage.

The proposed legislation has two loopholes which could enable companies to avoid financial liability for damaging the environment. The 'permit defence' would allow companies to avoid liability if they had been granted a licence for what turned out to be damaging activity, and the 'state of the art defence' excuses pollution if scientific knowledge at the time did not predict the potential harm. This may lead to inadequate research into side-effects.

David Drew MP is working with Dr. Sue Mayer from GeneWatch to raise awareness amongst MPs of the potential harm to habitats and species within each of their constituencies. David said,

"This is a great opportunity for the Government to introduce rules that will protect our most precious local nature sites and all of our native species. I will continue to fight for all 22 SSSIs in my constituency to be given protection under the ELD. I hope that this campaign will be effective in raising awareness amongst my colleagues and the wider public, and will encourage the Government to introduce strict-based liability for any environmental damage."

"This should be a big opportunity to protect the environment. The Government does not even want business to pay if they harm our most precious wildlife habitats and species. This is a license to pollute with immunity, not the polluter pays principle in action," said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK's Director.

"If GMOs cause damage to our environment, the taxpayer should not have to pick up the bill", said Dr Mayer. "I hope MPs will do their bit to get protection for their local wildlife sites and speak up against Government plans to allow loopholes for polluters".

For further information contact Sue Mayer (office) 01298 871898 (mobile) 07930 308807 or Laurie Howard 0207 219 1653.

Notes to editors

  1. The list of sites in each English constituency can be accessed by clicking here.
  2. The Environmental Liability Directive was agreed in April 2004 and has to be implemented by April 2007.
  3. The consultation is available on line here.
  4. Briefings and information about environmental liability can be found at:[cid]=530853
  5. 375 UK Biodiversity Action Plan species (79% of species covered by UK BAP action plans) will not be covered if the Government plans go ahead. In Scotland, 233 of the 278 UK BAP species found there would be excluded. Notable species excluded are:
  • the water vole, the red squirrel, and the brown hare ;
  • the cirl bunting, corn bunting, tree sparrow, bullfinch, the black grouse; and
  • many butterflies and moths.

A full list is available here.


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