The impact of wildlife organisations on locally managed flood projects is a concern. They seem to be free to make unsubstantiated statements whilst pursuing their objectives with little public visibility, criticism or professional oversight and it is a growing problem. It is a situation becoming increasingly familiar and yet another example of our growing democratic deficit where minorities impose their ambitions on the majority. The Somerset Levels, the Parrett Estuary and Bridgwater’s need for a flood defence from the sea has brought many of these parties with their own agenda to one location each focusing on what they consider to be important. Bridgwater seems to be well down the list of importance despite the planned construction of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier. The purpose of this article is to provide an explanation as to how this is happening.
Bridgwater currently builds around 500 houses a year and if that rate continues at even half that rate for the next 100 years we could expect to see the number of houses in Bridgwater rise by 25,000 taking another 700Ha (1,700 acres) of land for housing and a further 300Ha needed for employment. This 1,000Ha’s will see Bridgwater’s existing footprint grow by at least 50%, The 25,000 houses and associated economic development will generate perhaps 300,000m3 of clays and soil waste.
With flat and level land needed for employment land at the old BAE site and at Horsey offer the only other viable employment options to Bridgwater and they are to the northwest. New housing will be forced onto good quality farmland south along the A38 swallowing up North Petherton and eventually meeting Taunton coming the other way and to the west developing the land between Bridgwater and Cannington. Bridgwater will consume its high value agricultural land on the hills as it, like the rest of the country, continues to build our outdated ideas of housing.
Bridgwater will therefore become an even more difficult place to live and work as the gap between residential development and employment continue to grow. Every day a large part of Bridgwater’s population will get up and drive along the A38 and A39 to get to work. Bridgwater will not even start considering a bypass until 2040.
Apart from the normal lack of imagination by planners and developer’s Sedgemoor’s (Bridgwater) greatest problem now appears to be the wildlife and flood pressure groups that seem to take an extreme view in the pursuit of what they consider to be in their interest. They show little tolerance or understanding that people also live on the Levels and in Bridgwater and ignor the EU directives that accept people must come first. The true impact of their objectives is concealed and never addressed.
These organisations also seem immune from any need to consider facts in their statements whilst criticising property developers for the smallest omission. The irony that is they now ape those same commercial organisations in assembling land and changing its use without considering its long term impact on the wider local population and it should be lost on no one.
Some typical examples
The local economic benefits alluded to as part of the original Steart Peninsula planning application remain unproven and therefore represent little tangible benefit to the local population yet quoted as fact by The Severn Vision statements.
The Severn Vision
This plan will expand the existing saltmarsh by 833% around the Severn Estuary and in Bridgwater’s case large areas of agricultural land removed from food production and converted from a freshwater environment to a saltwater one (intertidal habitat). To date two phases have been completed; The Steart Peninsula and the RSPB reserve (funnded by Bristol Ports) both of which remove economic activity and destroy an existing habitat to create another. A process little different from modern housing development. Whilst an argument might be made on the basis of geography for these two areas to be returned to the sea no such argument exists for the destruction of Pawlett Hams and Chilton Trinity including areas of the SSI.
This is a process promoted by the following organisations
- Wildlife and Wetlands
- The Wildlife Trusts
- National Trust
- Campaign for Rural England (CPRE)
- Severn Rivers Trust
With regard to Bridgwater it makes claims regarding carbon savings whilst ignoring the collateral effect of moving Bridgwater’s housing developments onto higher quality agricultural land and increasing commuting distances. Also ignored is the loss of food production on 5,000 acres of land and the transfer of that food production overseas. It is particularly misleading in its statements with regard to Bridgwater providing no supporting evidence as to the negative benefit that it has considered in any balanced and holistic way. It is completely one sided yet already two key elements have been delivered, Steart Peninsula and RSPB reserve. The Bridgwater Tidal Barrier will deliver the southern land at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams .
Bridgwater Tidal Barrier
The Environment Agency and Sedgemoor District Council’s Dec 2018 public consultation made a claim with regard to the lack of any environmental impact of this scheme. The EA and SDC have not considered environmental impacts beyond the immediate area of the scheme despite this scheme imposing restrictions on economic development forcing residential development to the south and west of Bridgwater and employment to the northwest of the town.
It is worth noting that HPC looked at issues far beyond the immediate area of the power plant when it did its enviromental impact assessment.
Environmental Impact Statement
This statement above cannot be true as
- Seawater is shown overtopping the river banks onto the existing farmland, the fact that it is seawater is misleading.
- The farmland at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams will be poisoned for agriculture through the introduction of saltwater
- The existing wildlife that requires a freshwater environment will be destroyed.
- The location of the borrow pits, which side of the secondary flood defence, was not shown. The plan to excavate 100,000m3 of material will create a lake of nearly 13 acres that will act as a reservoir for saltwater.
- 1,400 acres of high quality farmland suitable will be unnecessarily developed invariable towards North Petherton and Cannington as this scheme will convert 1,400 acres of low quality farmland that could have been used to saltmarsh.
- 100 years of lost food production on 2400 acres of farmland.
- 100,000m3 of clay will be unnecessarily excavated from the land being protected whilst during the same period 300,000m3 will be produced as waste through normal housing and industrial construction activities. (the secondary flood defences do not need to be completed to the full height during intial construction
- Denying economic development in the north-west will increase commuting efforts in the local community generating avoidable C02; the scheme ensures the increased separation of employment areas from housing.
The claims regarding this scheme are questionable at best and the lack of information misleading at worse. The extract from the EA/SDC public display indicates a plan to create a stepping-stones for species that are not identified.
Campaign for Rural England (CPRE)
The CPRE’s support for The Severn Vision that results in the wholesale destruction of a large area of our existing productive landscape and the equivalent of 10 500 acre farms is not what we imagined their core mission to be that says
“We campaign for a beautiful and living countryside. We work to protect, promote and enhance our towns and countryside to make them better places to live, work and enjoy, and to ensure the countryside is protected for now and future generations.”
How allowing saltwater (seawater) onto productive farmland that has taken 500 years to remove the salt from seems a strange way of protecting our countryside.
Somerset’s Wild Trust (SWT)
Another supporter of The Severn Vision.
Somerset’s Wild Trust’s website says
Since the 2013-14 flooding events, the dominant narrative in the floodplains has focussed on hard engineering schemes and dredging to reduce flood risk, overlooking flood risk reduction techniques that work with nature and provide a range of benefits to society. A future is developing where more public money will be spent on fossil fuel intensive dredging and pumping, to further drain the peat soils of the Levels, thus releasing more carbon and exacerbating climate change. As peat is drained, it shrinks, lowering land height and making the area ever more vulnerable to extreme weather. Well-informed debate on the future of Somerset’s low-lying areas in the face of rising sea level is limited, so a further vital part of our work on the Levels is to communicate a more optimistic narrative which gives nature its proper value.
This statement ignores that the Somerset Level’s is an artificial environment that needs regular maintenance and seems to conflate the need to dredge Somerset’s rivers and the need to get pluvial flows from the upper Parrett catchment areas to the sea bypassing the levels storage with an idea that somehow this process is designed to shrink the peat. “A future is developing where more public money will be spent on fossil fuel intensive dredging and pumping, to further drain the peat soils of the Levels, thus releasing more carbon and exacerbating climate change” is a particularly spurious and misleading statement. It sounds like people are secretly pumping water off the levels as some sort of conspiracy.
Anyone with any knowledge of the Levels would know that retaining water levels is just as important to the Levels as draining them. No one is going to drain the peat. Well informed debate requires informed knowledge and that is clearly not the case with this statement by the SWT.
FLAG Flooding on the Levels Action Group
FLAG reflects its single issue origins seemingly taking its position on Somerset’s farming industry geographically from the lands relationship to Moorland and what is best for Moorland.
A post (Nov 2018) supporting Somerset’ s farming industry on the Levels was made by FLAG making Brexit the largest threat to farmers in anticipation of a nonexistent trade deal with the US; no doubt the cause of the 2014 flood and global warming will in time also be subscribed to Brexit.
FLAG’s postion downstream of Moorland at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams is quite different. Flag is altogther less compasionate regarding the farmers there having their land flooded with saltwater to alleviate upstream flooding. Concern is simply dismissed by a statement worthy of Marie Antoinette “let them raise salt beef or lamb”. It completely ignores that the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier has already destroyed land values for 2,400 acres of land and food production we might have gained. Reverse nimbyism seems to apply; as long the flooding is on someone else’s land FLAG appears to be happy whilst refuses even the smallest tacit support for or willingness to consider alternatives tht might have a better outcome for the wider community.
Whilst our wildlife organisations may have started with good intentions what is clear is that many people associated with these organisations simply don’t understand the mechanisms of the Somerset Levels, the impact of what they propose (The Severn Vision) and in most cases don’t care if it doesn’t suit their agenda. They fail to consider that ultimately the economy pays for everything and destroying local economies will ultimately call into question the viability of protecting our environment; the ratepayer maintains the roads used to get to our wildlife sites and will pay or make a significant financial contribution to the cost to the current planned defences and the their subsequent replacements. A case of shooting the goose that lays the Golden Egg of in this case chasing away industry and people.
It is clear that many organisations support the existing proposals to turn the Parrett Estuary into a saltmarsh. The decision by SDC and the EA not to commission an economic impact assessment has allowed those organisations and the Environment Agency to create the worst possible long term economic future as there is no assessment mechanism other than the government investment rules to measure the value of this scheme. Allowing the undermining Somerset’s agricultural industry, wasteful development and not working towards an integrated low energy society is not what we should be doing.