Proposed Wash Barrage

The Wash Saltmarsh from Snettisham

The Wash Saltmarsh from Snettisham

The proposal to construct a barrage across The Wash has brought about a whole new debate over the apparent conflict of interests between those who wish to see protection of people and property as Global Warming escalates sea rise, and those who wish to maintain such an internationally important wetland site free from damage. To satisfy both concerns with such a scheme may not be possible, but this depends greatly on any additional development that may be included once the area is ‘managed’ for profitable return of investment.

The Project

The Wash Tidal Barrier Corporation plc is a private company, founded by Cambridgeshire based entrepreneur Peter Dawe, set up specifically to promote and build a barrier across The Wash, one of Europe’s most important wetland areas for wildlife. There is to be a launch event for this at the end of this April 2008. Full details of the proposal can be seen by visiting www.washbarrier.org

Such a barrier proposal is not new. It has been voiced several times in the past, but never brought to fruition. In 1949 it was proposed to build such a barrage across the mouth of The Wash to form both a freshwater reservoir and a Europort. One sceptic of this idea pointed out it would end up the ‘world’s largest cesspool’ due to sewage outflow into The Wash. It was again voiced in 1966 when the barrage was proposed further out into The Wash so to allow for a City with an airport to be built!

In 1972 a feasibility study was commissioned and undertaken by the Government of the day to build a barrage across just half of The Wash to capture the freshwater from the four main entering rivers, to improve navigation through sea locks, to provide recreational facilities and to provide an area of land for a power station, etc. This led to a circular trial bank/bund being built to the east of Sutton Bridge and the Nene, the purpose of which was to promote reservoirs. But the report concluded the project would prove to be far too costly, and nothing came about.

The latest concept is to have a structure that would span the Wash from Hunstanton in Norfolk to just south of Skegness in Lincolnshire, a distance of approximately 18km, with an additional 5km of barrier in Lincolnshire in order.

The Area

The Wash seen from Heacham

The Wash seen from Heacham

The Wash is the biggest bay in England, running from just south of Skegness in Lincolnshire to Hunstanton in Norfolk. It is one of the most outstanding coastal wetlands in Europe with its bleak yet starkly beautiful landscape of saltmarshes, mudflats and open water. These intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes are one of Britain’s most important winter feeding areas for waders and wildfowl. Large numbers of migrant birds such as grey plovers, dunlins, oystercatchers and godwits arrive in the autumn to feed on the rich supplies of foods found in the sands and mudflats. (The best time to see large flocks of waders is from the Snettisham RSPB Reserve area on a rising tide between September and early May. But note that although The Wash National Nature Reserve is fully accessible by the Peter Scott Walk, many sites away from the footpath on the sea wall are extremely dangerous and should only be explored with an experienced local guide). The area is also a breeding ground for Atlantic grey seals and has a number of other habitats of conservation significance, including saline lagoons, shingle structures and dune complexes.

Sunset across the Wash

Sunset across the Wash

 

The Wash Estuary Strategy Group

The Wash Estuary Strategy Group was formed in 1993 and produced the first edition of the Wash Estuary Management Plan in June 1996. The document has since been reviewed via a wide ranging consultation process, resulting in a second edition published in the autumn of 2004. The main aim of the group is to promote the wise use of the area’s resources whilst trying to maintain the balance that allows the local communities to prosper and to safeguard the wildlife and landscape features for future generations. WESG work to ensure that their main objective is taken into account at all levels throughout the area. Sustainable development and Integrated Coastal Zone Management are at the heart of what they are trying to achieve. To see the aspirations please refer to www.washestuary.org.uk

The Benefits (?)

Whilst looking at the latest proposal in terms of tide height management, green energy and flood protection, this project of a tidal barrier across the Wash will provide the opportunity to manage the tide height and range within the Wash. The Barrier also offers a number of additional benefits such as the generation of a large and reliable amount of green electricity and flood protection for more than 500,000 people, 300,000 hectares of grade 1 agricultural land and billions of pounds’ worth of assets. A major surge could overtop the structure, but whilst building a higher barrier significantly adds to the cost, the probability of the Barrier being overwhelmed is greatly reduced.

Using the tide to generate power is one of the greenest and most dependable sources of sustainable energy. The Barrier has the capacity to generate over 1GW of electricity, equivalent to the output of two highly undesirable nuclear power stations.

The non-benefits

The impact of the scheme upon wildlife could be dramatic. There is no similar area that could substitute for the present Wash complex. Tammy, the Wash Project manager states “The tidal barrier is a concern to me because of technical issues, mostly backwash and making things worse for the adjacent coastlines, and the ongoing dredging costs after being built will be through the roof, let alone the fact it is the largest, most heavily protected wildlife site in UK with a healthy fisheries which landed £6.4 million last year and three very healthy ports and two MoD weapons ranges – all of which seems to be relatively ignored”.

The impact can be likened to that of the Bristol Barrage for many of the same reasons. Here is another scheme where undoubtedly the benefits to the built environment will be put against the environmental losses of habitat and wildlife, and where the short-term economic benefits will be placed paramount to the long term loss of the ecosystem.

Pat Gowen, 20th April ’08

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