Europe urged to investigate £60m bird protection scheme

THE European Commission has been asked to urgently investigate a £60m scheme to protect birds displaced by a massive “green energy” development on the Humber by a farmer who says it is likely to fail.

Able UK wants to build Europe’s largest offshore wind park on the south bank of the Humber - a £440m development set to create more than 4,000 jobs but which will also destroy mudflats which are one of the top sites in the country for black-tailed godwits.

Proposals to flood hundreds of acres of agricultural land at Cherry Cobbs Sands at Keyingham, almost opposite, as part of legally required “compensation” have not been proven to work, according to tenant farmer Stephen Kirkwood.

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Mr Kirkwood who faces seeing a quarter of his land going underwater has now lodged complaints with the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Mr Kirkwood said the disruption could affect five per cent of the Icelandic population of black-tailed godwits and there was compelling evidence from other similar sites “that at least a proportion die or lose vigour.”

He says if that happens it will mean the UK Government has failed its obligations under the Habitats Directive and could be liable to a massive fine.

Mr Kirkwood, who has lived at Sands House for over 50 years, said: “As the tenant of the land you may think I am objecting for purely financial reasons. That certainly is very important to me as the effects on my business will be serious.

“However my overriding opinion is that it is a lose-lose situation for all.

“This productive land will be lost just as we approach a world food shortage. The godwits will still have nowhere to go for four years when their habitat is destroyed.

“The UK taxpayer will probably end up footing the bill.”

The scheme has faced repeated delay, most recently as a result of a challenge from Associated British Ports, who submitted objections to Parliament.

They were recently thrown out by a committee of peers and MPs, but Able still faces the threat of a judicial review by ABP.

Able, which has already begun enabling works at the site in north Lincolnshire on the back of a £15m Government grant, said Mr Kirkwood’s complaints flew in the face of an exhaustive planning process, the Secretary of State for Transport, and a Joint Committee of Parliament and “the overwhelming support of the local community who wish to see the economic transformation of the area which the development will generate.”

Development Director Neil Etherington said compliance with the Habitats Directive could not be avoided and “inevitably” entailed the loss of productive agricultural land. The compensation measures had gained approval of Natural England (NE). He added: “Whether this is the best overall solution is indeed a moot point but we have to abide by NE’s interpretation of the EU Directive and NE are the Government’s appointed body responsible for ensuring the protection of the natural environment.”

The Humber estuary is one of the most highly protected sites in Europe, a special protection area for birds and a special area of conservation for its habitats, as well as being on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.