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Severn Barrage would be 'absolutely devastating' say conservationists

Last modified: 10 January 2013

The Severn Estuary

Image: Philip Halling

A Proposal to build a Barrage across the Severn Estuary ‘could be absolutely devastating’, environmental groups have told MPs.

The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), National Trust, RSPB and Angling Trust told the House of Commons Energy & Climate Committee they all supported tidal energy development in the Severn, but that the current proposal lacked detail and claims that it would not unacceptably damage wildlife and large areas of habitat were “not realistic”.

As well as doubting claims about the environmental impact of the barrage, all four organisations expressed support for future alternative smaller projects in the Severn Estuary to test and develop new tidal energy technology which Britain could export globally.

What they said:

WWT Chief Executive Martin Spray told MPs:

“This represents such a massive investment and such a massive change to the estuary that we do need more information. We have got to get a little more clever about how we address the environment. There is potential for energy generation but we have to come up with environmentally sustainable, acceptable and sensible solutions.”

Angling Trust National Campaigns Co-ordinator Martin Salter told the Committee a full-width barrage across the estuary would mean fish dying due to sudden changes in water pressure and salinity, and through turbine strikes. He said:

“Claims that these turbines are fish friendly are absolute guff. This is 24/7 fish mincing. Turbines kill fish above a tip speed of 6-7 per second. The Hafren proposal is for a tip speed of 9 per second. How on earth can they make press statements that these are “fish-friendly”? They are simply not.

“This drives a coach and horses through all environmental protections that governments have signed up to. The impact could be absolutely devastating on both the commercial fisher, on the recreational fishery and on highly protected habitat.”

Losing habitat

RSPB Head of Site Conservation Policy Kate Jennings said experiences elsewhere suggest smaller projects would be a better way to test new technologies rather than repeat experiences in the Netherlands:

“The experience in the Eastern Scheldt estuary in the Netherlands where they built a storm surge barrier in the 1980s is the best comparator for the Severn Barrage. What they found is that 30 years after construction the estuary is still losing intertidal habitat. They think it will go on losing habitat for at least a century.

“The official Government study into the Severn Barrage proposal in 2010 showed that there would be significant effects on the populations of 30 species of birds and that in addition to the Severn it would also have negative impact on at least five other internationally important wildlife sites nearby.”

Kate also addressed claims that a barrage would reduce flood risk by protecting against storm surges, telling MPs a barrage could actually increase flood risk upstream:

“There are other forms of flood risk. A significant one being fluvial (rivers) and managing that relies on the ability to get water out of the Severn. So holding it back behind a barrage would compromise that and tide-lock drainage. We don’t have enough details of the proposals.”

National Trust National Environment Director Simon Pryor said:

“The majority of the Severn is a natural system accessible to a lot of people. The barrage will be highly visible from many protected landscapes. It will change that atmosphere and experience from those places. We’re very strong on renewable energy generation. We would be very interested in the range of the other technologies. The problem is that one single solution of one huge barrage is putting all the eggs in one basket and destroying recreational space.”


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