Fears for waders on doomed mudflats

Birds at risk: New reserve offers little sanctuary to wildlife driven out by Cardiff Bay barrage
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The Independent Online

Environment Correspondent

The Government has promised to create an "internationally important" bird reserve beside the Severn Estuary, to compensate for one it is completely destroying in the construction of the Cardiff Bay barrage.

But conservation groups say the new reserve, near Newport, covering one- and-a-half square miles, will provide a feeding ground for only a fraction of the wading birds who feed on the mudflats of Cardiff Bay. These will be submerged for ever once the barrage is completed next year.

It seems likely the Government will end up owning half, or less, of the new reserve's land. The rest will stay in the hands of farmers paid to manage it in a way that favours bird life. Critics say that this provides no guarantee it will remain a reserve.

The designated land, at Uskmouth and Goldcliff, on the Gwent Levels, consists of grazing meadows and the grounds of a redundant power station, where huge quantities of fuel ash have been dumped into lagoons. A variety of rare plants and insects lives in the drainage ditches that criss-cross the fields, and the land is already a Government-designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The plan is to turn the power station grounds into reed beds and create saline lagoons, where the salty tidal waters of the estuary mix with fresh water. Announcing the pounds 5.7m scheme last week, the Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, said it was a "unique and exciting opportunity".

It is the third area mooted for a reserve to compensate for the loss of Cardiff Bay. Two earlier ones fell by the wayside, as the Government feared it would have to seek compulsory purchase powers, and then be ruled out of order at a public inquiry. At this site it has reached agreement with the power station's owner, National Power.

Peter Ferns, chairman of a coalition of local and national wildlife groups opposed to the construction of the barrage, fears only a few dozen redshank and dunlin would be attracted to the new reserve in winter, as it lacks high mudflats. More than 4,000 of these waders, a significant proportion of their UK population, winter in Cardiff Bay but will soon have to move.

"Maybe the new reserve will provide a home for substantial numbers of other species, but we can't be sure," he said. "Youcan't make up for the destruction of important habitat."