Popular BBC racing show Top Gear has come under fire again for its high-speed car sequences after it was accused of causing damage to the salt pans of Botswana.

The Makgadikgadi salt pans are the largest in the world and environmental agencies claim that the driving of three cars on the pans caused lasting damage to the environment and could encourage similar behaviour from others.

Mary Rice, the head of the Environmental Investigation Agency, an organisation that conducts conservation projects in Botswana, , said the programme could lead to many "boy racers" driving on the rare wonder.

She also accused the BBC of being hypocritical.

"The BBC is trying to have it both ways.

It's spending a fortune, for example, clearing its schedules to promote Live Earth and save the environment but at the same time it's sending people down potentially to trash one of the last pristine wildernesses on Earth with a fleet of motor vehicles, all for the sake of a good picture. This is a big Boy's Own adventure," Ms Rice claimed.

The Observer newspaper quoted a guide, David Dugmore, as saying: "The thing that worries me is the viewers and public that are going to go out to the lakes, and we will end up with every Tom, Dick and Harry that comes up, with vehicles and quad bikes, which will absolutely spoil the place."

A spokeswoman for the BBC said: "We employed several environmental experts who advised us on where we could and couldn't go."

She added that the BBC was mindful of environmental concerns and had "ensured that we never went near any conservation areas".

Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson was recently criticised in the Malaysian parliament for calling one of the country's cars the worst in the world.

Presenter Richard Hammond was seriously injured when he crashed a jet-powered car on an airfield in September.

08/07/2007 08:48:07