Image credit - Wild Ken Hill

There could be ‘catastrophic damage’ to nature if Wash Barrier plans go ahead

Thursday 02 November, 2023

Alongside a variety of other conservation charities, we are warning of catastrophic damage to one of the UK’s most important wetlands ahead of a public meeting in Hunstanton to discuss a proposed tidal barrier on The Wash. 
Our Planning and Advocacy Manager, Mike Jones, will speak at the event in defense of this vital wild landscape and highlight its importance on a local, national and global scale for wildlife and people.
Despite more than three years of speculation, there are still significant concerns people are being kept in the dark about Centre Port’s tidal barrier project, including the catastrophic effects such a development would have on wildlife and people. 
Conservation organisations and local businesses including us at NWT, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, RSPB and Wild Ken Hill are frustrated by the lack of transparency from the developer. The Centre Port chief is expected to face fierce opposition from scientists, conservation charities and community members as they prepare ahead of a meeting at the Princess Theatre in Hunstanton on Friday. 
James Sutcliffe, CEO of Centre Port Ltd, is expected to give an update at this Friday’s meeting on his ideas for an enormous tidal barrier on The Wash, which are believed to involve building a deep-sea container port on the cherished estuary. Community members have previously asked him to explain the plans, but have had only ‘vague’ statements about the future of The Wash and a lack of transparency from the developer. 
Wild Ken Hill founder, Dominic Buscall, said: “I publicly debated this issue with Mr Sutcliffe in May. Aside from the widespread opposition to the idea, one of the notable features from that evening was the complete lack of information on his ideas. Six months later and that continues to be the case. It is now time to put this whole proposal to bed.” 
No firm plans for the development to go ahead have been confirmed, and the developer would need to complete studies on the environmental impacts and demonstrate the project’s viability before any work could begin. Similar proposals to build a tidal barrier on the River Severn were rejected by the Government in 2010, as result of potential environmental risks and rising costs. 
The Wash estuary is currently under consideration for UNESCO World Heritage status as part of England’s East Coast wetlands, in recognition of its global importance for wildlife, but the future protection of this exceptional area could be dealt a significant blow if the gigantic infrastructure project is given the green light. The tidal barrage development threatens to cause catastrophic damage to one of Europe’s most important wetland habitats for wildlife. 
Previous talks about the idea prompted Tim Jickells, a retired professor of oceanography at the University of East Anglia, to warn against turning The Wash into a ‘green, fetid lake’. 
Phil Pearson, RSPB senior conservation officer, said: “A tidal barrier on The Wash would be disastrous for the UK’s most important estuary for wetland birds and would have knock-on effects on other nationally and internationally important habitats for wildlife such as the East Coast and the Fens. 
“This kind of thing has been tried before and never works as intended. The evidence from other barrage proposals around the world highlights the potential catastrophic impact that can occur to an estuary’s habitats and wildlife if these sorts of projects go ahead. “The proposed Wash barrier is being touted as supporting renewable energy generation, but in reality the estuary is wholly unsuited to this project.” 
Tim McGrath, director of conservation for the WWT, said: “Saltmarsh, which is abundant on the estuary, naturally stores carbon and helps us adapt to the impacts of climate change, while providing additional multiple benefits to nature and people. Saltmarsh is extremely effective at storing carbon, and typically captures carbon 40 times faster than temperate forests. As well damaging a natural flood defence, a tidal barrier on The Wash could create additional flood risk, as well as releasing vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, further contributing to issues the scheme is claiming to ameliorate.” 
Mike Jones, our planning and advocacy manager, said: “In addition to providing habitats and food for many wetland species, saltmarsh can also mitigate the effects of flooding, alongside traditional measures such as sea walls. 
“Building a huge tidal barrier would likely flood and destroy the saltmarsh along this stretch of coast, destroying vital wildlife habitat and exposing local communities to increased flood risk which undermines the supposed purpose of the scheme.
“We are facing a joint biodiversity and climate crisis and the two are inextricably linked – to address one, it is crucial we address the other, which is why we must put nature at the heart of our decision-making, including development and infrastructure planning on our land, coast and sea.” 
The importance of The Wash is recognised in national and international environmental designations including Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area of Conservation (SAC) Ramsar site and Special Protection Area (SPA). 
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