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Endangered Species

Volume 402: debated on Thursday 3 April 2003

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What recent representations she has received from local and regional wildlife trusts concerning the future of native endangered species. [106689]

I regularly receive a number of representations from many sources including the wildlife trusts, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Mammal Society and English Nature.

Many of my constituents are concerned about the survival of one of our best-loved species, the red squirrel. While I do not advocate the ruddy duck solution for grey squirrels, will my right hon. Friend te11 me what action the Government can take to create controlled zones for the greys so that their remorseless spread is halted? Will she look at ways of ensuring support for cross-regional co-operation in the areas most affected? In England, joint action is necessary in the north-east and Cumbria and, in Scotland, in the adjoining area of Dumfries and Galloway.

My right hon. Friend makes an important point—I entirely agree that that kind of co-operation is necessary. She will probably be aware that the Government's emphasis has been to seek to protect the red squirrel by protecting the habitat where it is most likely to survive rather than to interfere in the habitat of the grey squirrel. There is no doubt, sadly, that grey squirrels have a considerable advantage in, for example, broadleaf woodland.

The Government continue to discuss with the relevant partnership of organisations a range of protective measures to try to enhance the survival capacity of the red squirrel. I share my right hon. Friend's view that red squirrels should be protected—they are charming creatures that we would like to preserve.

Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust for its work in a partnership that is seeking to reopen the old Droitwich canals? The trust's intelligent, pragmatic and sensible approach to possible threats to endangered and rare species along the banks of those waterways has led to a successful grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Advantage West Midlands to secure the reopening of those canals. Does she agree that that proves that it is possible to protect endangered and rare species while achieving beneficial change in the countryside?

I am happy to endorse everything that the hon. Gentleman said. It is both noticeable and welcome that local partnerships are springing up across the country. The hon. Gentleman is right that the important thing is that, where possible, we act at the point of endangerment, or preferably before, rather than try to retrieve a situation that we have let go beyond repair.