Barrage bad for birds

British bird charity, the RSPB, says a tidal barrage to harness the power of the River Severn would cause environmental devastation and should never have been considered in the Government's Energy Review.

The Severn has the second largest tidal range of any river in the world, making it a huge untapped source of power generation.

But this very range also creates vast areas of saltmarsh, mudflats and rocky islands which at low tide feeding grounds for some 85,000 water birds.

As such the ten-mile tidal barrage considered by the review is a source of conflict between our need for renewable energy and the needs of wildlife, says the RSPB, pointing to the fact that the 2003 Energy White Paper dismissed such a scheme due to the huge financial cost and the damage it would do to biodiversity in the estuary.

The RSPB finds itself in a difficult position when it comes to renewable energy generation, as while climate change is likely to have a considerable long-term impact on birds, in the short term well-publicised problems such as bird-strike from wind turbines and potential loss of habitat from large scale projects such as a Severn barrage present their own difficulties.

“In the right places renewable energy is great,” Cath Harris, a spokesperson for the RSPB told edie.

“We’ve only objected to about 10% of appliactions for wind farms – in the vast majority of cases we’re supportive.

“The threat of climate change both to wildlife and to man means we seek investment in renewable energy and encouragment for energy efficiency measures.

“The impact a barrage would have is huge. This is one of the most important sites in the UK for wild birds and the chances of them surviving if it went ahead are fairly slim.

“There wouldn’t be enough room left for all the birds and there wouldn’t be enough food for those that remained.

She said that while the issue of the barrage had been raised – and dismissed – twice before, it was in no way inevitable that the we would see a Severn Barrage sooner or later.

“If the Government were to assess the resources country-wide then they would see that the £15 billion a barrage would cost could be far more usefully invested in other schemes.”

Dr Mark Avery, conservation director for the RSPB added: “Without doubt the Severn Estuary has the potential to generate huge quantities of renewable energy and this potential should be examined properly.

“But the government’s fixation on a barrage is probably not the way to do it because the cost to wildlife is too dear. Instead, the government should be assessing other tidal technologies, which have huge potential, do much less environmental damage and are less intrusive.

“Any feasibility study should recognise that the barrage will cost far more than the £15 billion forecast and involve long-distance transport of construction materials with the associated carbon emissions.

“Large scale building projects in the UK always go over budget or take much longer than expected – the channel tunnel, Wembley and the Dome are prime examples of that.”

Modelling suggests a barrage would reduce the Severn’s tidal range by half so reducing the amount of land and food exposed for these birds.

According to the RPSB the resulting food shortages would cause birds to die and those attempting to breed to be less successful because they would be in poor condition because of lack of food.

“The estuary is one of the UK’s most important sites for water birds and its wildlife value must be taken fully into account,” said Dr Avery.

“Through the energy review the government should be choosing options that provide the biggest long term benefit to the country in terms of generating clean energy and, just as importantly, safeguarding the natural environment.”

Sam Bond

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