Martin Salter - working hard for Reading West

New Report Slams Severn Barrage Plans: A Disaster Waiting to Happen for Wildlife and Fisheries

[Full report is available to download here]

MPs from opposite sides of the House of Commons have joined forces this week to call upon the Government to drop plans for the £23 billion Severn Barrage on environmental grounds. Labour MP Martin Salter (Reading West) and Conservative MP Charles Walker (Broxbourne) have published a detailed 90 page report covering the history and background to the barrage project with an examination of less damaging alternatives.

The report, entitled ‘Severn Barrage Digest’ concludes: -

The Barrage also looks unaffordable in terms of its impact on the environment.  The construction of a barrage on the scale of the Cardiff to Weston proposal means that large swathes of valuable inter-tidal ground would be permanently submerged and that the populations of wading and migratory birds that rely on it would be deprived of a site of international significance to their future well being. Similarly seven species of migratory fish would be affected by a direct barrier across their route to and from the sea including commercially valuable, but very fragile populations of eels and salmon. Two of the ten major rivers emptying into the Severn above the Cardiff-Weston line (the Wye and the Usk) represent a quarter of the spawning territory for Salmon in England and Wales.

It seems counter intuitive, when the consensus of international scientific opinion is that climate change is a result of human activity, to decarbonise power production by concreting over protected areas on a rarely envisaged industrial scale. Building a barrage across the tidal Severn estuary would have a massive environmental impact and would, under current legislation, be impossible without a derogation of European law. It would create a precedent that would effectively allow any other E.U. country or region to build destructive dams across estuary systems and undermine environmental legislation designed to protect our diminishing coastal resources. 

The concept of a tidal barrage across the river Severn as proposed by the STPG has been around for decades and now represents outmoded technology. In many ways it is the product of a way of thinking which has led us into our current predicament and its demise will surely leave room for new, exciting, productive and environmentally sound ways of producing energy from the sea at an affordable price.

Mr Salter and Mr Walker are keen anglers and served as Chair and Vice Chair respectively of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling. Mr Salter is standing down from parliament at the parliamentary election having worked for over 8 years as Labour’s Parliamentary Spokesman for Angling.

Mr Salter said:-

“It is time to kill off this nonsense project once and for all. At a cost of £23 billion and rising it cannot be afforded for financial reasons and certainly not on environmental grounds. Latest figures show poor value for money compared with other renewable sources of energy with costs of around £317 per mega watt hour compared with £85 for off shore wind and £38 for nuclear power”

“A quarter of all salmon spawning habitat in England and Wales would be removed and vast areas of inter tidal areas used by wading and migratory birds would be lost forever. This habitat is simply irreplaceable meaning that the Severn Barrage is nothing more than an environmental disaster waiting to happen for wildlife and fisheries”.

Paul Knight, Salmon and Trout Association CEO, said:-

“This is an excellent piece of work which transcends party politics, seeking to put the environment and socio economics ahead of knee jerk reactions to renewable energy needs. Yes, use the Severn’s tidal power, but in a way that does not

threaten species, habitats and livelihoods”.

Charles Walker, Conservative MP for Broxbourne and Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling, said:-

“There is no environmental justification for the Severn Estuary Barrage. History has proved that damming rivers ends in disaster. With this in mind, it’s beyond belief that serious people are still considering pursuing this white elephant that will cost many billions, destroy a tidal habitat of international importance and have no discernable impact on reducing global carbon emissions.” 

In their foreword to the report the MPs say: -  

The barrage has been rightly opposed by a wide coalition of environmental and conservation groups, including the Environment Agency, the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Salmon and Trout Association, the Atlantic Salmon Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, the Angling Trust, the United Usk Fisherman’s Association, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, WWF UK, Wye Salmon Fishery Owners Association and the Wye and Usk Foundation. We and other MPs have raised the same concerns in Parliament and are publishing this report as a further contribution to the current debate.

We well understand the need for new sources of renewable energy to meet EU targets and to bridge the UK energy gap. However, the Severn Tidal Barrage will be devastating for the fish stocks and marine life in the Severn, Wye and Usk catchment. Not only would this be an environmental disaster, but would wipe out the millions of pounds recreational fishing contributes to the economy. The creation of the Severn Tidal Barrage runs contrary to all the environmental protection that Parliament introduced in the Marine Bill, and is simply not the right solution to our energy problems. As this report demonstrates there are less environmentally damaging alternatives such as tidal lagoons or tideway turbines which can create green energy without destroying the unique habitat of the Severn estuary.