Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 1st November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Hardy of Wath Lord Hardy of Wath Labour 5:30 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, as I am to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. Before responding to my noble friend, perhaps I may say to the noble Viscount that I am well aware of the contribution made on Ministry of Defence land. The MoD once embarrassed me, on the day before I was to present the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Bill. The Bill included the protection of the natterjack toad, which is extremely rare. The officer in charge in the Aldershot-Salisbury area contacted me to say that they were just about to release several thousand natterjack toads that they had bred on Salisbury Plain. I asked him to treat it as a matter of great confidentiality; otherwise, my Bill might have been in peril the next day.

One of my anxieties has not been entirely relieved by my noble friend's response. I accept the reference to the 1949 Act. However, one of the difficulties in this whole area is that the location of species needs to be kept secret; otherwise they will be stolen. I do not know whether there are any Snowdon lilies left in Snowdonia, but they were among the rare species that were protected under my Bill, which became an Act in 1975. One of the reasons for their decline was that people had gone round stealing them.

If the matter is left to English Nature, it is possible for the risk of publicity to be greatly enhanced. If it is left with the conservation bodies, they can be a little more discreet. That is one reason why the lady's slipper orchid still survives, when it was down to only one plant in 1976.

If we are to ensure the survival of certain natural species, and the guarantee of consistent support for biological diversity in a sensible way, it may well be that a little more responsibility or influence should be accepted on the part of the voluntary bodies--which work happily with English Nature and will continue to do so while my noble friend Lady Young is involved.

I should like to clear up one misapprehension, which my noble friend might acknowledge. The amendment relates to land within nature reserves. I did not intend it to apply to the whole of a nature reserve--because some are very large indeed. But there may be pockets of a nature reserve where there is a sudden recognition or identification of an extremely rare species. Fast action may be needed, and may be more likely to come about if those who are responsible for the reserve can respond immediately to that need. The amendment would provide a greater degree of flexibility. Perhaps my noble friend and her assistants will re-examine the whole question of the need to maintain confidentiality and the ability to respond urgently should the need arise. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.