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Barrage plan gets mixed reaction from environmental groups

The Severn Barrage’s inclusion on the government shortlist of tidal power schemes being considered for the Severn Estuary this week got a mixed reaction from green groups.

The Green Party and the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) criticised the government for backing the scheme which they claim will destroy the natural habitat of thousands of birds. But the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) welcomed the shortlist.

The 8.64GW Cardiff-Weston scheme could potentially provide 5% of the UK’s electricity as renewable energy. But it would also destroy up to 60% of the estuary’s 20,000ha inter-tidal habitat – according to Friends of the Earth Wales.

“Harnessing the tidal power of the Severn has to be right, but it cannot be right to trash the natural environment in the process,” said RSPB head of sustainable development Martin Harper. “We know the Cardiff-Weston Barrage would destroy huge areas of estuary marsh and mudflats used by 69,000 birds each winter and block the migration routes of countless fish.”

But SDC chairman Jonathon Porritt said the barrage’s environmental benefits could outweigh wildlife considerations. “Faced with the problem of decarbonising our energy supply, the potential prize to be gained from harnessing the power of the Severn in terms of secure and low-carbon energy is one which we cannot afford to ignore,” he said. “The draft shortlist contains an imaginative but feasible list of proposals, combining a range of smaller options which could be realised sooner, and larger ones which could provide more energy, but take longer to become reality.” “The final scheme must be the one that generates as much clean energy as possible while minimising harm to the estuary and its wildlife.

Friends of the Earth criticised the government for failing to include offshore tidal lagoon schemes in its shortlist.

Habitat loss

  • Cardiff Weston: 20,000ha

  • Shoots Barrage: 5,000ha

  • Beachley Barrage: 3,500ha

  • Russell Lagoon: 6,500ha

  • Bridgwater Bay: 5,500 ha

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