Farmers are up in arms over English Nature's decision to designate as an SSSI an expanse of more than 30,000 acres of some of the nation's finest arable land in the Breckland area on the Suffolk-Norfolk border.
The SSSI designation, local landowners fear, will place heavy restrictions on their use of their land and is bound to effect land values.
But Appeal Court judges today rejected a challenge to English Nature's stance spear-headed by the Honourable Patrick Fisher, of Kilverstone Hall, near Thetford, who owns land in the Breckland area.
Lord Justice Wall, sitting with Lord Justice Auld and Mr Justice Pumfrey, said English Nature's controversial decision 'was properly taken and is challenge proof'.
Mr Fisher and the trustees of his family trust were ordered to pay heavy legal costs bills and were refused permission to appeal further to the House of Lords.
Local farmers, the court heard, have no objection to the site being recognised as a Special Protection Area.
But they argued the presence in the area of the largest UK population of stone curlews is largely due to farmers' good land management and the SSSI designation was a poor reward for that.
For its part, English Nature insisted 'special conservation measures' are needed to preserve the birds and the Breckland area is of vital importance to their survival and reproduction.
And the Appeal Court judges rejected claims that the SSSI designation was unnecessary and 'irrational' and amounted to a violation of farmers' human right to 'peace fully enjoy' their private property.
Stone curlews are 'extremely scarce' in the UK, and their numbers have fallen by 85% in the past 50 years and by more than 50% since 1960. In 1999, there were only 234 breeding pairs in Great Britain.
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