Conservationists warning over East Anglia nature sites

Senior conservationists said the government risks 'trashing' East Anglia's most treasured wildlife habitats if it relaxes protective legislation in order to stimulate economic growth.

Chancellor George Osborne announced in his autumn statement last week that 'gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitats' was holding back British industry when it was needed to kick-start the nation's economy.

Defra subsequently announced a review of how the EU habitats and birds directives are being applied in England, 'with a view to reducing the burdens on businesses'. The proposals provoked outrage among wildlife charities, who fear the government's drive for financial growth could cause lasting damage to the natural environment – and the multi-million pound tourism industry which depends on it.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust chief executive Brendan Joyce said: 'We are not standing in the way of progress. We should have modern networks and housing and we do need economic security, but to be prepared to trash the wildlife jewels in the crown for the sake of it seems to me to be crazy.'

The review was welcomed by business and landowner representatives, and environment secretary Caroline Spelman said the government was determined to maintain the integrity of the habitats and birds directives while freeing British firms from excessive bureaucracy.

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