Flood fears over bid to protect bitterns

WORRIED farmers and householders have warned their land could be flooded if the RSPB is given permission to create a new reedbed to replace habitats being lost to the sea.

Richard Smith

WORRIED farmers and householders have warned their land could be flooded if the RSPB is given permission to create a new reedbed to replace habitats being lost to the sea.

The RSPB wants to convert 17 hectares of agricultural land to a wet reedbed at Abbey Farm, Snape, near Aldeburgh.

The organisation warns that internationally renowned reedbeds at Minsmere, Walberswick and Easton Broad are under threat due to a combination of climate change, rising sea levels and tidal surges.

This will affect bitterns and therefore the RSPB wants to protect the rare species by creating a new home for them.

But the proposals have worried landowners in Snape who are concerned that it could be difficult to insure properties if they are in danger of being flooded.

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Suffolk Coastal is carrying out a consultation process before making a decision in April and Mike Hill, chairman of Snape parish council, said the parish council supported the RSPB's principles.

But it was concerned about the increased risk of flooding for farmland and property which could make land and property uninsurable and uninhabitable. The raised water table would make private septic tank household drainage systems unworkable.

Householders in Cundle Green Lane, Snape, are worried their properties will be flooded and Martin Phelan, of Gromford Lane, Snape, said the proposed reedbed was less than 100metres from his field. “The level of our field is lower than the adjoining Abbey farmland purchased by the RSPB.

“Any increase in the level of the River Fromus and adjacent drainage ditches will exacerbate the flooding which already affects our field when water levels are high. This will render our field unusable for much of the year,” said Mr Phelan.

Eric Moss, who breeds Alde pedigree red polls, warned the scheme would increase the risk of flooding for his grazing marshes on the River Alde floodplain and this would have a serious impact on his farming business.

Saltwater kills off the bittern's food supply which is mainly fish in the UK and it kills off reeds leaving bitterns with nowhere to build nests.

Kirsty Coutts, an RSPB conservation officer, told Suffolk Coastal: “It is vital that alternative reed bed sites are found in the Suffolk coast area to protect both the iconic species that draw visitors to the area, and the economic importance that such visitors bring to the local economy.

“If new reedbeds are not created on the Suffolk coast then they will be created instead in areas further afield, such as The Fens, involving both species loss and potentially loss to the local economy of Suffolk.”

She added that Suffolk bitterns played a crucial role because females nesting in Suffolk reedbeds produced the most chicks of any in the UK. Abbey Farm was close enough to reedbeds threatened by climate change to maximise the possibility that bitterns would breed there.