Land that will grow four tons of wheat to the acre and give good grazing is too valuable to be flooded with sewage effluent

For 300 years Neville Waters's family has farmed in the parish of Nash, just outside Newport in Gwent. But now their livelihood, like that of other farmers round them, is threatened by a scheme so idiotic as to be scarcely credible. The aim is to flood 1,000 acres of land - most of it with sewage effluent, some with sea water - to create a bird reserve.

To Mr Waters, the proposal is both practical madness and personal insult. If it goes ahead, he will lose 150 of the 270 acres which he farms, and his dairy herd may well go out of business. Apart from the fact that the scheme will cost pounds 6m or pounds 7m to implement, it will take pounds 500,000 a year to run, and reduce annual agricultural production by at least pounds 1m. It may also prove fatal to the rare plants and insects for which the area has been designated a site of special scientific interest.

The trouble has its origins in Cardiff Bay, 15 miles to the south west, where the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation is attempting to revitalise the waterfront. This project is now well advanced, and a key feature is the construction of a barrage across the estuary of the Taff and Ely rivers. This will turn the bay into a freshwater lake, flooding 500 acres of tidal mudflats and thus depriving several thousand wading birds, principally dunlin and redshank, of their feeding grounds.

Having fought the scheme unsuccessfully, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other conservation bodies demanded compensation, and extracted a promise from the Secretary of State for Wales that alternative bird accommodation would be found.

The promise was backed by the European Commission, which threatened prosecution if the Government did not take action. Now, with four other areas considered and rejected, the axe is poised above the Gwent Levels, a strip of farmland along the coast south of Newport.

Nobody claims that this area is beautiful. Its western end is dominated by a vast power station, now closed down; inland, industrial development has sprawled out in a hideous barrier between the coastal plain and the hills. Nevertheless, the Levels are fascinating, for every acre bears evidence of man's 2,000-year struggle to control the ubiquitous water. Within a high sea-wall the flat fields are bounded by a network of reens (major watercourses) and lesser ditches. The oldest fields have shallow open channels, known as grips, running at right angles to the main ridge- and-furrow drainage system. Out of sight below ground are more modern drains filled with pipes and shingle.

The developers claim that the soil is very poor, and should be graded 3B. Local farmers retort that 80 per cent of the land in Wales is graded 4 or 5, and is rock or bog: the Levels are thus in the top 20 per cent by any reckoning. Land which will grow four tons of wheat to an acre and produce excellent grazing is far too valuable (they say) to be flooded with sewage effluent.

That is the imminent fate of the area known as saltmarsh. All drains will be blocked. Fields will be surrounded by bunds, or banks, of earth. Houses within the reserve will be ringed by individual bunds, with effluent lapping outside them from October to May.

Close to the derelict power station, ash has settled over the years to a depth of 12ft or 14ft in huge ponds specially built to contain it. These deposits contain boron, arsenic and other noxious materials, yet now some of them are to be excavated to a depth of 3ft so that they too can be flooded with sewage, in the hope of establishing a colony of - wait for it - bitterns.

There is clearly some risk that poisonous substances will contaminate the sewage effluent. Even advocates of the scheme admit that the habitat of the new reserve will be different from that of Cardiff Bay, and will not attract the displaced species.

Until last week, the Newport Planning Committee had been proposing to make a recommendation to the local council without even looking at the site. Then, at the last minute, they agreed to hold a site inspection. So the protest group has won a temporary reprieve.

No wonder the farmers are enraged by the thought that the labour of generations will be brought to nothing, that they will lose their land by compulsory purchase, and that several small family businesses will go under.

What annoys them most is that decisions are being taken by distant quangos whose members are totally ignorant of the area.

"The Government keeps talking about freedom of choice," said Mr Waters, "and yet we have none. Instead, we have to listen to a lot of twaddle from people who don't know the first thing about our environment, our heritage, our businesses, our traditions - and from people who don't care, either."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Developer

£50k - 60k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Front End Developer

£50k - 70k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Digital Designer

£50k - 55k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An exciting opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Vertical Sales Director

Market related: Opilio Recruitment: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game