Man-Made Disaster: Environment Agency Accused Of ‘Putting Birds Before Humans’

  • Date: 07/02/14
  • James Kirkup, and Sam Marsden, The Daily Telegraph

The Environment Agency has been accused of putting the needs of wildlife before those of humans in its management of storm-hit places like Dawlish in Devon.

Storms batter the UK
Engineers survey the extensive damage to the main Exeter to Plymouth railway line at Dawlish Photo: MATT CARDY/GETTY IMAGES

Days before the recent winter storms, the agency is said to have told peers that it could not act to protect the railway line at Dawlish from the sea until it had studied the impact of any improvements on local birdlife.

The line at Dawlish was this week severely damaged by the surging sea amid winter storms, leaving much of Devon and Cornwall cut off from the rest of the country by rail.

Lord Berkeley, a former rail industry executive, suggested that the Environment Agency was “looking after birds before humans”. [...]

Lord Berkeley was one of a group of peers who met Paul Leinster, the agency’s chief executive, on January 23.

The officials told the peers that they had plans to shore up the coastline at Dawlish, but would have to take into account the consequences for local birds.

The beaches and mudflats in the Dawlish area are a renowned haven for birdlife, home to 12,000 wading birds including oystercatchers and redshanks. Rare species including avocets and black-tailed godwits have also been sited.

In a letter to Baroness Kramer, the Transport Minister, the peers revealed that the agency said it had considered a plan to protect the line by “repopulating” the beach with sand, effectively moving back the coastline.

However, the agency said it would have to consider the impact on birdlife before intervening to shield the railway.