PRESSURE will be increased on china clay companies to give up their quarrying rights on southern Dartmoor.

This follows a meeting in London this week where representatives of more than a dozen organisations debated ways of averting or minimising the possible effects of quarrying by Watts Blake Bearne and Imerys — formerly English China Clays — at Blackabrook and Shaugh Moor, near Cadover Bridge, between Tavistock and Plymouth.

The companies do not at present quarry on Dartmoor and have said they will not do so until the result of an environmental study by consultants is published, expected in the summer.

But they have existing planning permission to quarry on the moor and legal experts say the permissions could only be revoked if the companies were paid huge compensation, which the authorities would be loath to do.

The quarrying rights of the companies were re-asserted in the Environment Department's Review of Old Mineral Permissions (ROMPS).

This week's meeting included the Council for National Parks, Dartmoor National Park Authority, Dartmoor Preservation Association, English Nature, English Heritage, the Countryside Agency, the Ramblers' Association, Devon Wildlife Trust and a number of other interested parties.

The quarry companies were not invited, but a spokesperson for the organisers said they might be contacted afterwards. She said the areas in question were of great landscape and architectural value and were much used by people from Plymouth and Tavistock and the surrounding villages.

A spokesperson for the companies said: 'you have to quarry where the minerals are, but both companies want to do it in an environmentally-friendly way.'

She said the land under review was only 0.17 per cent of Dartmoor (87 hectares) and noted that the two companies employed around 400 people in china clay quarrying and contributed around £29-million to the local economy.