New nature reserve set to be created if Mersey Gateway gets go-ahead
A new 28.5 hectare nature reserve is set to be created in the heart of Halton around the Mersey Gateway bridge if the project is given the go-ahead.
The public inquiry into the project heard from Paul Oldfield, Nature Conservation Officer with the Mersey Gateway Project, who outlined the proposals as part of the project team’s evidence to the inquiry.
A 28.5 hectare saltmarsh nature reserve is proposed for the Upper Mersey Estuary, running 200 metres either side of the proposed new bridge. This will include habitats in both Runcorn and Widnes, including Wigg Island. The main public viewing points will be from existing visitor facilities on Spike Island and Wigg Island.
The Upper Mersey Estuary, which extends from just to the west of the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge to the River Mersey’s tidal limit at Howley Weir in Warrington, does not currently have any special status, but does include within it Local Wildlife Sites such as Wigg Island and the Widnes Warth and Astmoor Saltmarshes.
The long term aim is to create a new nature reserve that will protect the local environment over the next 30 years. The proposed features of the new nature reserve include:
- restoring high quality saltmarsh throughout the nature reserve
- creating new saltmarsh scrapes and pools close to the new bridge
- attracting internationally important bird species found further downriver to the new site
- increasing the local breeding bird population such as skylark and meadow pipit
- introducing rare breeds of ‘conservation cattle’ to graze alongside the river to help convert the existing vegetation to a wider range of saltmarsh plants
- fencing the saltmarsh area off to protect it from disturbance by people and dogs, and
- the creation of a new charity – the Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust – to manage the proposed nature reserve.
The Middle Mersey Estuary which extends to the west (downriver) of the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge is already a Special Protection Area for birds (SPA), a Ramsar site, European Marine Site and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
This area attracts a number of internationally important migratory bird species such as Shelduck, Teal, Golden Plover, Redshank, Dunlin, Pintail and Black-tailed Godwits, and the project team has taken great care to ensure that the Middle Mersey Estuary habitat is not adversely affected by its proposals.
Paul Oldfield, Nature Conservation Officer with the Mersey Gateway Project Team, said: “This will effectively create a new 28.5 hectare nature reserve in the heart of Halton. This will be a unique haven for birds and other wildlife and will help ensure that the new bridge brings major environmental benefits to the area. The proposed new Environmental Trust will also ensure that the new nature reserve will link in with wider long-term nature conservation activities across the Mersey Estuary.”
Cllr Paul Harris, Executive Member for Environment with Halton Borough Council, said: “The proposed new nature reserve will be a welcome addition to our facilities here in Halton. The fact that this project gives us an opportunity to develop a new nature reserve covering saltmarsh on both sides of the river is great news, and I welcome this announcement.”