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Saturday, 30 May 2015

Beauty spots at risk

Under threat? Wastwater is one of the Cumbrian sites excluded from the special protection plans

By Anika Bourley

Parliamentary Correspondent

ENVIRONMENTALISTS fear dozens of the most beautiful and important landscapes in Cumbria will be at risk of pollution and damage under proposed new government rules.

A total of 144 of the county’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) have been excluded from a list of locations to be given special protection from waste dumping and the discharge of pollutants into water.

The special protection – included in strict new European Union regulations – would mean people who pollute the SSSIs would be made to pay to put the damage right.

Under existing rules, they only face a fine.

The government has stopped short of adopting the new protection for 3,000 sites in England. Of those, 144 are in Cumbria, including Ennerdale, Wastwater, Gelt Woods and Lazonby Fell.

They include three SSSIs in Carlisle, 30 in Copeland, 85 in Penrith and the Border and 26 in Workington.

Environmental campaign group GeneWatch has accused the government of trying to save money.

Now 47 MPs have signed a Parliamentary motion demanding a rethink before a final decision is made in two weeks’ time.

The row has blown up over the EU’s environmental liability directive (ELD), which is intended to hold companies liable for polluting the environment.

Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch director, said: “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.”

The loopholes would allow firms to avoid financial liability for damaging the environment if they had been granted a licence for what turned out to be damaging activity, Dr Mayer added.

However, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said its policy was minimum implementation of EU directives, unless there were exceptional circumstances.

It is estimated the enforcement of minimum standards will lead to an average of 42 actions being taken against environmental damage each year, with the total cost of enforcement about £14 million.

Enforcing above minimum standards could see an extra 38 incidents, leading to additional costs of £2.4 million, said a Defra spokesman.