The Severn Barrage Back On the Agenda
After meetings with backers of the proposed Severn Barrage and Peter Hain MP, the Marine Conservation Society and other NGOs raise concerns about unacceptable environmental impacts
Hard on the heels of a meeting a group of NGOs – including the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) – had with Peter Hain MP and representatives of Hafren Power (promoters of the Severn barrage) on Tuesday in London, MCS last night attended presentations given by Professor Roger Falconer and David Evans of Arup where further details about the proposal were released.
Professor Falconer – a Regional Board member of Hafren Power and Professor of Water Management at Cardiff University – stated that as soon as the proposal receives backing from the UK Government, several sovereign funds from around the world are poised to invest in the project. Proposed costs vary, but may be as much as £34billon.
The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive sets a target for the UK to achieve 15% of its energy consumption from renewable resources by 2020, and Professor Falconer stated that the barrage will not be in place by then to contribute to meeting this target. Even so, the UK Government has stated it will be “a huge challenge” to comply with this legal requirement.
Professor Falconer said that Hafren Power had revisited previous proposals for a barrage and had opted for a design that, although it contained four times as many turbines (1026) as before, “they had been designed to be more fish friendly”. However, NGOs present were sceptical about this and asked for Professor Falconer’s research to be released and peer-reviewed in order to gain a better understanding of Hafren Power’s proposal.
This echoed the requests made by the NGOs at Tuesday’s meeting with Peter Hain MP and Hafren Power. MCS Pollution Programme Manager, Dr Robert Keirle and the other NGO’s say that to date there is insufficient information to assess the extent to which the claims by Hafren Power that their proposal would be less damaging may actually be the case. The group is deeply concerned that the MP for Neath has been quoted in the media stating that the proposal will be benign or even beneficial to wildlife.
They set out a series of key challenges for Mr Hain and leaders of the consortium which is developing the plans, to address the very serious potential impacts of their proposals. They stressed that it is imperative that they seek independent, peer-reviewed assessments of the nature and scale of the impacts; in particular on the many fish species that live in and pass through the estuary, and on the geomorphology of the estuary which will dictate how habitats, birds and flood risk would be affected by the proposal.
All the NGOs recognise that there is an urgent need to tackle climate change and that renewable electricity generation is a vital part of the solution. However, inappropriately designed or located renewable energy developments can cause serious and irreparable harm to wildlife. For energy generation to be labelled 'green', it must not only be renewable, but also avoid unacceptable damage to wildlife and the ecosystems upon which it depends.
The NGOs will be submitting a document to Mr. Hain and the consortium setting out the key areas of concern and the work that needs to be done to assess the scale of the impact of the proposal.
Dr Robert Keirle, MCS Pollution Programme Manager says: “Although it was an encouraging wide-ranging meeting on Tuesday, Hafren Power must now follow up on their fine words with definite actions. We’ve been given a high-level overview of their proposed barrage, but we need to see the detail and for them to support their assertions that the numerous impacts on the marine environment will be minimal.”
The Severn Estuary is one of the largest estuaries in Europe and is of international importance for its wildlife and is a unique landscape. Its saltmarshes and mudflats are used by 69,000 birds each winter, its waters support over one hundred fish species and vast numbers of invertebrates, and the estuary is a vital migration route for fish including salmon and eel.
In 2010, a Government study into the feasibility of building a barrage across the Severn confirmed that the impacts of a conventional 'high head' barrage could be catastrophic, including the local extinction of some species of fish and an increase in flood risk over an area of 370 square kilometres containing 45,000 residential properties. This highlights the fact that barrage construction in the Severn Estuary could have unacceptable impacts that would damage wildlife and disrupt the lives of those who and live and work around the estuary for decades if not centuries to come.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is the only national UK charity dedicated to the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife. MCS campaigns for clean seas and beaches, sustainable fisheries, and protection of marine life. Through education, community involvement and collaboration, MCS raises awareness of the many threats that face our seas and promotes individual, industry and government action to protect the marine environment.
MCS provides information and guidance on many aspects of marine conservation and produces the annual Good Beach Guide (www.goodbeachguide.co.uk), the Good Fish Guide relating to sustainable seafood, as well as promoting public participation in volunteer projects such as MCS Beachwatch Big Weekend and Basking Shark Watch. For further information go to www.mcsuk.org
Via Maria Nunzia @Varvera