RSPB takes on Environment Agency over floodplain plan which would have destroyed nests of rare birds

·3 min read
Chris Packham fought against the plan
Chris Packham fought against the plan

The RSPB has taken on the Environment Agency over a plan to create floodplains which would have destroyed the nests of rare birds.

Mud flats were due to be created on the River Otter in Devon this month in a nature restoration attempt, but doing so would require the destruction of vegetation on the river, putting birds and their nests at risk.

After angry rebukes from the bird charity and BBC Springwatch presenter Chris Packham, the Environment Agency said the start of the project was "being reviewed" in order to take possible ecological damage into account.

The RSPB said it supported the restoration scheme but it was the wrong time of year, as many birds are nesting.

Tony Whitehead from the charity said there were concerns about the work taking place in May, "in the middle of the nesting season".

He explained that species like the rare Cetti's warbler were at risk and the RSPB had "repeatedly" asked for the work to be moved to another time of year.

"It is good to hear that the works have been paused today and for the remainder of this week," he said.

"We hope this will give time for the works to be rescheduled for after the bird nesting season, which in our view would be after the end of August."

The bird charity said it had spent months trying to get the plans delayed.

Birdwatchers rushed to the area, and said they found evidence of this rare warbler nesting on the site.

The plan for the estuary is to return it to a more natural state, creating 55 hectares of mudflats, saltmarsh and other valuable estuarine habitats. Along with increasing biodiversity, the project is aimed at reducing floods in the areas around the River Otter.

In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Packham said: "Sanctioned by the Environment Agency, workers are going to turn up and destroy an area of scrub, which is home to reed warbler, white throat, reed bunting, and Cetti's warbler, a schedule one species. Now this is the breeding season as we know, these birds are all likely to have nests with eggs or young.

"The Environment Agency said they could not delay this work until after June because there are dormice on site.

"You can't just start destroying birds' nests when they are protecting - what kind of signal is this sending out to developers elsewhere? Come on Environment Agency - wake up!".

The presenter later thanked the government agency for pausing the work.

An EA spokesperson said the delay had been agreed so "that timings reflect the balance of ecological risks".

Clinton Devon Estates, a partner in the scheme, added: "Following consultation with our partners and other environmental organisations over risks to nesting birds, the start of vegetation clearance work in preparation for the Lower Otter Restoration Project has been postponed.

"Any works in the future will be undertaken on the basis that they will not have a risk of impacting breeding birds."