Agency moves to allay wetland fears

FEARS that plans to transform more than 1,000 acres of agricultural land into wetland habitat would take land out of production were rebuffed by officials this week.

Speaking at a drop-in session held in Sutton on Friday, Dr Geoff Brighty said that the land around Sutton, Witcham and Coveney would continue to be productive and would become prime grazing land for cattle.

The Ouse Washes area manager also moved to allay fears that the land could become a swamp, flooded year-round.

“We are not going to be flooding the land,” said Mr Brighty. “We will need to raise the water table slightly in the spring for the birds but there are no plans to flood the area permanently.

“There will also be grazing available and it will still be productive land,” he added. “We understand people are concerned about food supply but our answer to that is while it will be taken out of production it will be available for grazing and if in the future the Government’s priorities change it could quite easily be restored to its former use.”

Residents were able to view the Environment Agency’s plans for the first time at special drop in sessions held at Coveney Village Hall and The Brooklands Centre in Sutton.

The Environment Agency plans, which are also backed by The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), will see hundreds of acres of farmland spread across two sites on the Ouse Washes become part of what the EA has called a “habitat creation project.”

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The first site will be located between Coveney and Witcham with a second tract of land near Sutton also included in the plans.

According to the EA, the Ouse Washes make up a 19-mile flood storage reservoir which is under threat from changing rainfall and flooding patterns.

As a result, it says this has led to substantial reductions in some bird populations over the last 30 years, as well as the need for increased maintenance.

The EA says that it will continue to consult with local landowners and residents before entering a planning application for certain aspects of the project. Construction could start in 2012.