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New plan to create wildlife habitat

PUBLISHED: 20:08 03 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:15 24 February 2010

By David Green

SEA defences could be breached to create valuable new wildlife habitat in the biggest “managed retreat” scheme planned in East Anglia - to compensate for port development.

By David Green

SEA defences could be breached to create valuable new wildlife habitat in the biggest “managed retreat” scheme planned in East Anglia - to compensate for port development.

More than 420 acres of arable farmland near the redundant Bradwell nuclear power station will be allowed to flood if a £5.5 million scheme drawn up by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) goes ahead.

The European Court of Justice ruled more than five years ago the Government's decision to sanction an extension to Felixstowe Port at Fagbury Flats in the Orwell Estuary and port facilities at Lappel Bank in the Medway Estuary were unlawful.

It said the sites were internationally-important wildlife habitat and should have been protected. It also ordered the Government to create new habitat to compensate for the losses.

Now Defra has come forward with a scheme which will cost £5.5m over the next 10 years, but save the taxpayer £20m in sea wall maintenance.

Under proposals subject to public consultation, the existing sea wall - which is in poor condition - will be allowed to breach to flood the land and create saltmarsh and mudflats, rich feeding grounds for birds. A new sea wall will be built further inland.

The land involved, known as Weymarks, is owned by British Nuclear Fuels and the Othona Community, a Christian organisation.

Both have agreed in principle to the scheme, although the nuclear company has asked for an assurance its site would not be at greater risk of flooding.

Defra said it would take between 10 and 15 years to get the area back to the bird-friendly wetland it was before the advent of modern farming.

The proposal was welcomed by the RSPB, which took the Government to the European Court in 1997 after the port developments had been approved.

Richard Powell, its director for eastern England, said: “Saltmarshes and mudflats are the UK's richest habitat for birds, supporting in excess of two million birds every winter.

“These habitats face many pressures, like the port developments which occurred at Fagbury Flats and Lappel Bank, and it is vital to compensate for any losses caused.”

Bird set to benefit from the scheme include ringed plover, curlew, redshank, dunlin and shelduck.

Tenants farmers who currently lease the land will be compensated if the scheme goes ahead.

david.green@eadt.co.uk


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