Belated protection for mudflats

AN AREA of mudflats earmarked for controversial port development has been given the belated "protection" of a national wildlife designation.Bathside Bay at Harwich has just been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by English Nature, the Government wildlife agency.

AN AREA of mudflats earmarked for controversial port development has been given the belated "protection" of a national wildlife designation.

Bathside Bay at Harwich has just been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by English Nature, the Government wildlife agency.

The designation comes as Hutchison Ports (UK) is planning a multi-million pound development on the existing mudflats, feeding grounds for many wild birds.

However, English Nature said yesterday the move was not designed to scupper plans for the port development but a response to studies conducted by consultants for the port company.


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The agency had never collected data about the wildlife importance of Bathside Bay because, in the early 1980's, a Parliamentary Act had been passed to allow port development.

However, two High Court rulings that the exclusion of other earmarked port sites from wildlife designations were erroneous had forced a rethink.

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When consultants of Hutchison Ports filed their report on the wildlife of Bathside Bay officials decided the 160-acre site met the criteria of a SSSI and started the designation process.

The designation, approved by English Nature's ruling council, has now been formally notified.

Dr Chris Gibson, English Nature spokesman, said Bathside Bay would also be included in a proposal for the whole Stour and Orwell Estuary area to be designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the European habitats directive.

"Hutchison Ports has always accepted that the bay is of importance to wildlife but we never had the scientific data necessary for the designation of it as a SSSI," he said.

Dr Gibson said the designation was not intended to scupper the port plans although English Nature would be formally objecting to the development which, it claims, will also have a detrimental effect to the ecology of the whole estuary.

"If the Government decides there is an over-riding economic need for the development then we will be supporting the compensation measures drawn up by the port company," he added.

The measures include the creation of a large new area of habitat – larger than that which could be lost - in Hanford Water, a little further down the Essex coast.

Dr Gibson said a decision had been taken in 1984 - in view of the Parliamentary approval for port development – not to investigate SSSI designation but, in retrospect, this had been "wrong".

Paul Davey, Hutchison Ports spokesman, said the designation was a decision for English Nature and would not affect the port plans.

"We have always acknowledged that the development would have an impact on the adjacent SPA and the SSSI designation presents us with no new hurdle. We have to show that there is an over-riding case for development in the public interest and this remains the case," he said.

Mr Davey said Hutchison Ports had been talking to English Nature and the RSPB about the port plans from a very early stage.

Stephanie Tyrer , spokeswoman for Harwich Environmental Action Team, which is opposing the Bathside Bay plan, said any new designation would assist the campaign. "It is a long overdue move," she said.

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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