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RSPB response to fracking announcement

Let’s have wildlife sites protected too

Harry Huyton is the RSPB’s head of climate change. He said: “For the first time the Government has recognised that special places need to be protected from fracking, but it has not gone far enough in ensuring that wildlife sites need protecting. We are calling for all of these sites to be excluded from fracking developments too - this would send a clearer and more decisive message to the industry and public alike.”

Earlier this year the RSPB, the National Trust and other countryside conservation groups published a major review of the risks fracking could pose to the natural environment in the UK.

The review concluded that the risks were significant and diverse, particularly when fracking is carried out at the commercial scale. At this stage well sites of up to 3 hectares are needed at frequent intervals, each with their own environmental impacts and risks. Critically from a wildlife and countryside perspective, cumulative impacts at the landscape level could be very significant at this stage.

We also put forward ten recommendations that would strengthen how this industry is regulated and would go some way to addressing these risks.

The headline recommendation was to create shale gas exclusion zones that include National Parks, Areas of Natural Beauty (AONBs) and sites protected for wildlife (SACs, SPAs and SSSIs for all you acronym lovers).

Today Government have announced that new protection measures will be introduced to protect National Parks and AONBs. This is great progress as it marks a real shift from ducking the environmental issues around fracking to recognising there is a serious issue here that deserves a serious response. It is, however, surprising that they have not included wildlife sites in these new rules. This is what I said to the media:

“For the first time the Government has recognised that special places need to be protected from fracking, but it has not gone far enough in ensuring that wildlife sites need protecting. We are calling for all of these sites to be excluded from fracking developments too - this would send a clearer and more decisive message to the industry and public alike.”

The other big question is why Government didn’t just exclude fracking from these areas. Instead they have said it will still be allowed in ‘exceptional’ circumstances. As far as I can see no one can really tell what ‘exceptional’ actually means until someone tests it and applies anyway.

Grahame Madge

28th July 2014