ANCIENT flood meadows on York's outskirts have been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest - safeguarding the endangered Tansy beetle.

Clifton Ings and Rawcliffe Meadows, to the north of the city, are the last stronghold in the British Isles of the iridescent green beetle, otherwise known as Chrysolina graminis.

Their confirmation yesterday as an SSSI, which followed a four-month consultation period, means the floodplain will be managed appropriately to maintain and enhance its biodiversity, while it is also used to store up to 3.3 million cubic metres of floodwater from the Ouse to help prevent flooding in Rawcliffe and York.

David Shaw, area manager for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire at Natural England, said SSSI status was 'fantastic,' because it would protect a large area of rare habitats and species so close to the thriving city.

Steven Kirman, of the Environment Agency, said: “This is great news for the tansy beetle as well as many other important species of plants, birds, animals and insects.

"SSSI designations are a hugely successful way of helping to conserve natural habitats, and as well as helping wildlife they are of huge benefit to people in many ways.

"The maintenance of Clifton Ings and Rawcliffe Meadows is especially important to us because of the role the site plays in flood alleviation in the city of York.”

A Natural England spokesman said the beetle relied almost entirely on the tansy plant Tanacetum vulgare for its entire life cycle in England. "Noted at Clifton Ings since Victorian times, it is thought that a stretch of the River Ouse which runs adjacent to the site near York supports the last known population of this species in the British Isles."

He said lowland grasslands were vulnerable to agricultural improvement and it was estimated there had been a 97 per cent decline in semi-natural grassland in England and Wales in the 50 years to 1984, with losses continuing during the 1980s and 1990s.

"Clifton Ings and Rawcliffe Meadows is an unusually large area of intact floodplain grassland that has avoided fragmentation or agricultural improvement."