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4 Jun 2003 : Column 417W—continued

Seaforth Docks Bird Reserve

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what types of

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birds and what size of population are supported in the bird reserve in Seaforth Docks; and if she will make a statement. [116610]

Mr. Morley: Seaforth Nature Reserve, owned by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, and managed by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, is of national, European and international importance for the numbers of redshank (1,590 individuals) and turnstone (760 individuals) it supports in winter, and of national and European importance for its population of breeding common tern (124 pairs), a species listed in Annex I to the EC Birds Directive (79/409/EEC). The aforementioned population numbers are average counts from the period 1994–95 1998–99 for the two wintering species, and the period 1996 -2000 for breeding common terns. These were the most recently available data used to justify the inclusion of part of Seaforth Docks within the Mersey Narrows and North Wirral Foreshore potential Special Protection Area (in accordance with the EC Birds Directive 79/409/EEC) and Ramsar site (in accordance with the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat 1971).

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the condition of the flood defence measures on the Sefton coastline from Formby pinewoods to Seaforth Docks. [116608]

Mr. Morley: Defra provides grant aid on capital flood and coastal defence projects that meet specified criteria and an appropriate priority score. Operational responsibility for planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of defence measures rests with the operating authorities—normally the Environment Agency (EA), local councils and internal drainage boards—which have the relevant local knowledge. They also identify the need for defence measures and decide which projects to promote and their timing.

Defra also encourages operating authorities to take a strategic approach to coastal defence measures. I understand that both Sefton Council and the EA, who are responsible for lengths of this coastline, are preparing coastal defence strategies which will, inter alia, take into account the condition of defences and seek to identify sustainable measures. Defra is providing grant to the Council towards the cost of related studies.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the condition and management of the SSSI sites between Formby pinewoods and Seaforth Docks. [116609]

Mr. Morley: Formby Pinewoods to Seaforth Docks is part of the Sefton Coast SSSI, which extends for over 20 km between Southport and Crosby covering a total area of 4605.32 ha. 3834.81 ha of the SSSI is recorded as being in favourable or recovering condition and 770.51 ha is recorded as being in unfavourable condition.Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council is the largest single owner/manager with English Nature, The National Trust, MoD and five golf courses are responsible for other substantial areas. These partners are guided by "The Sefton Coast Management Strategy

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1999" and "The Sefton Coast Management Plan 1997–2006",which have been agreed in consultation with English Nature.

Seaforth Docks is located within the 117.84 ha of Mersey Narrows SSSI which covers both sides of the mouth of the Mersey Estuary. Seaforth Docks is recorded as being in favourable condition with the last condition assessment completed in May 2000, prior to notification.

The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company is the owner of the SSSI area within the Seaforth Docks. This site is currently under positive management for nature conservation by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust as agreed and consented by English Nature.

Sewage Treatment

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has to discuss (a) reed bed and (b) other soft technology approaches with representatives of (i) Ofwat, (ii) the Environment Agency and (iii) waste companies, with specific reference to sewage alleviation. [115137]

Mr. Morley: Reed beds and other sustainable drainage systems can, in the right conditions, help to alleviate sewer flooding. My Department has already been in discussions with the Environment Agency, Ofwat and the water industry on this subject and the Environment Agency published the Framework for Sustainable Drainage Systems consultation paper on 19 May.

Sickness Absence

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many staff in the Department have been on long-term sick leave in each of the last two years. [115851]

Alun Michael: I would refer the hon. Member to my earlier reply of 30 April 2003, Official Report, column 383W.

Responsibility for attendance matters within the Central Science Laboratory Agency, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, the Rural Payments Agency and the Centre for the Environmental Fisheries and Aquaculture Science Agency has been delegated to the Agency Chief Executives and I have asked them to reply direct. The Pesticides Safety Directorate and Veterinary Medicines Directorate Agency are covered by the Departmental response.

Letter from Peter Greig-Smith to Mr. Bercow, dated May 2003:

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Letter from Steven Edwards to Mr. Bercow dated May 2003:

Letter from Professor Mike Roberts to Mr. Bercow dated May 2003:

Letter from Johnston McNeill to Mr. Bercow dated 23 May 2003:

Strychnine Hydrochloride

Mr. Peter Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the cost to farmers of non-availability of strychnine hydrochloride; what representations she has received from the farming industry on its availability; what research she has commissioned on alternative poisons for farming pest control; and if she will make a statement on future supplies of strychnine hydrochloride. [115801]

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Mr. Morley: Defra first became aware of difficulties obtaining strychnine hydrochloride in early February when a number of regular users contacted Defra's Rural Development Service who are responsible for authorising use of this compound to control mole infestations. Enquiries by my officials revealed that the difficulties had arisen due to a shortage of raw material experienced by the supplier used by many pharmacies. An alternative supplier, who gave assurances that they were able to meet demands, was identified and contact details were posted on the Defra website in early March (

Furthermore, to ease difficulties obtaining strychnine, Defra temporarily suspended the practice of specifying a named pharmacist on the permit to purchase strychnine (Form LP10). This change, which remains in force, enables authorised permit holders to purchase strychnine from any pharmacist with stocks of the compound.

In view of the temporary nature of the shortages, an assessment of the cost to farmers was considered unnecessary.

Representations were received from regular users, including pest controllers and farmers.

Aluminium phosphide is also approved for use as an alternative for mole control. In the past the Department has commissioned work on a further alternative preparation, micro-encapsulated bromoform. This preparation has not been through the approvals process and it is not considered appropriate for the Department to pay for such registration costs.

Defra has recently asked the Central Science Laboratory to undertake a review of the range of mole control methods which exist across the EU. The aim of this review is to produce guidance to UK interests on the most humane and effective methods of mole control which are currently available.

As far as I am aware, strychnine hydrochloride is currently available from pharmacies, and there have been no recent enquiries reporting shortages. I am unable to comment on the long-term availability of this compound, as this is a matter for the importers.

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