PROTECTED areas of Dorset could be under threat from fracking, a wildlife group has claimed.

The RSPB has published a list of more than 60 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) which it says have been offered by the government to energy companies to explore for oil and gas.

Included in the list are the South Dorset Coast, Studland and Godlingston Heath, Studland Cliffs and the RSPB nature reserve Wareham Meadows.

The coalition government promised to ban fracking in National Parks, SSSIs and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) - but that was before the general election in May.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “In February Amber Rudd, Energy and Climate 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 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.”

The RSPB believes fracking could result in habitat loss and fragmentation, in noise and light disturbances and even chemical pollution, which it says could harm wildlife, watercourses and habitats.

A spokesman for the group said they are now calling on the government to rule out fracking in, under or near SSSIs, as existing legal protections are not strong enough to protect these areas.

Martin 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 UK wildlife.”