Fracking could put hundreds of protected wildlife sites at risk in new areas offered for oil and gas licences, British charity the RSPB has warned.
The charity has found that 293 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), areas which have been designated as protected to conserve certain species or habitats, are included in 159 onshore oil and gas licence blocks offered to fracking companies last month.
The controversial process used to extract shale gas and oil could lead to noise and light disturbances and even chemical pollution that could lead to habitats being lost or broken up, according to the RSPB, and existing legal protections are not strong enough to protect them from damage caused by fracking,
Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said: "In February Amber Rudd, Energy and Climate Change 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 (AONBs) 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."
With the total area of SSSIs within the licence blocks accounting for less than 1 per cent of the total area offered to fracking companies, the charity has urged the Government to completely rule out fracking in, under or near such sites to prevent harm to them.
Harper 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 wildlife."
As well as the designated SSSIs, nine RSPB nature reserves also fall within the licensed areas, including Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire, home to one of Europe's largest seabird colonies, Nagshead in Gloucestershire, and Fairburn Ings in West Yorkshire.