Wildlife groups have accused Norfolk MPs of an "unfair attack" after they singled out an "unelected" Natural England official for attempting to block the construction of the Western Link. 

Organisations including the RSPB and Norfolk Wildlife Trust have criticised a letter, from all eight of county's Conservative MPs and three Tory prospective parliamentary candidates, in which they attacked the advisory body for its stance on the proposed road. 

In the letter to Steve Barclay, the environment secretary, they identified an unnamed official who they said had made an "arbitrary decision" to revise existing guidance on rare barbastelle bats, which live on the route of the £274m Western Link.

Eastern Daily Press: Eliot Lyne, CEO of Norfolk Wildlife TrustEliot Lyne, CEO of Norfolk Wildlife Trust (Image: Jimmy King)

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The bats are protected by law in the UK and a special licence is needed from Natural England to do anything which might disturb or harm them. However, under new guidance issued by the organisation, it is expected that the Western Link is unlikely to obtain one. 

The county's Conservative MPs warned of "catastrophic consequences to infrastructure projects in Norfolk" and claimed the road had been blocked "by the opinion of an unelected individual within Natural England, despite it having the overwhelming support of the people of Norfolk".

Nine wildlife organisations have joined forces to criticise the move, saying the local politicians had "misunderstood" the issue.

Eastern Daily Press: Norfolk's Conservative MPs - Chloe Smith, Richard Bacon, Liz Truss, George Freeman, Duncan Baker, James Wild, Sir Brandon Lewis and Jerome MayhewNorfolk's Conservative MPs - Chloe Smith, Richard Bacon, Liz Truss, George Freeman, Duncan Baker, James Wild, Sir Brandon Lewis and Jerome Mayhew (Image: Norfolk Conservatives)

They said: "We think the letter contains an ill-advised and unfair attack on the dedicated work of Natural England specialists and the main contributor, a renowned expert in this species, and shows a misunderstanding of the way the report has been written, as well as the purpose of the report itself."

However, the MPs have maintained that they have "great respect" for the role of the organisation.

George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, said: "I take the conservation of our most precious habitats and species very seriously, but the Natural England guidance creates the legal basis for thousands of green activists to launch appeals to stop any major development.

"That is not good conservation - it is bad policy-making which risks making it impossible to get anything done and deters the investment that we all need for economic prosperity."