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Almost 300 of England’s most important wildlife sites at risk from fracking

16 September 2015

The RSPB has warned that almost 300 of England’s most important wildlife sites are at risk from fracking after completing a full analysis of the areas of land that Government have offered to energy companies to explore for oil and gas. 

The analysis showed that 293 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) have been included in the 159 oil and gas licences that the Government have offered to energy companies to date. An SSSI is a conservation designation given to a protected area in the UK, often protecting a certain species or habitats.  

Nine RSPB nature reserves are also included within the licensed areas including Bempton Cliffs – which is home to one of Europe’s largest seabird colony, Nagshead and Fairburn Ings. 

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “In February Amber Rudd, Energy and Climate Secretary, specifically promised to ban fracking within all SSSIs, but this promise seems to have been forgotten. We simply don’t understand why SSSIs, some of the UK’s best and most sensitive wildlife sites and landscapes, aren’t being offered full protection from fracking, when National Parks, World Heritage Sites and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are being excluded from fracking completely. 

“The Government still has a chance, before these fracking licences are finalised, to fulfil its promise and protect SSSIs – and the RSPB is urging them to do so.” 

Fracking could result in habitat loss and fragmentation, in noise and light disturbances and even chemical pollution, all of which could harm wildlife, watercourses and habitats. 

Fracking needs planning permission but the RSPB does not believe that the existing legal protections for Sites of Special Scientific Interest are strong enough to protect them from damage that can be caused by fracking. It believes it would be simplest for the Government to completely rule out fracking in, under or near sites in order to prevent any possible damage to them.

Martin added: “SSSIs make up a very small percentage of the licence areas that the Government has offered; therefore ruling them out would have almost zero impact to the industry but could be a major benefit for UK wildlife.”

The total area of SSSIs within the licences blocks totals 10,722 hectares, which is less than one per cent of the total area offered to fracking companies. 

The wildlife sites affected by the new licences issues by the UK Government do not currently include any sites in Scotland, as onshore oil and gas licensing is planned to be devolved to the Scottish Government following recommendations by the Smith Commission. There is currently a moratorium on unconventional gas (shale gas and coal bed methane) in Scotland pending a full public consultation on unconventional gas impacts. 

Notes

1. The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

2. A Site of Special Scientific Interest is a conservation designation denoting a protected area in the UK. SSSIs are the basic building block of site-based nature conservation legislation, often protecting a certain plants, habitats or species. SSSIs are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
3. On 27 January 2015, the Government’s posted the following position on fracking in protected areas: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/shale-developments-to-be-banned-in-all-uk-national-parks
4. The nine RSPB nature reserves that are included in the fracking license areas are: Bempton Cliffs, Dearne Valley, Fairburn Ings, Hodbarrow, Langford Lowfields, Nagshead, Salthome, Tetney and Wareham Meadows.