Stour mussels beds proposal concerns RSPB and wildlife trusts

Mussels on the shore Image copyright Thinkstock/Ifness
Image caption Mussels - similar to the ones which would be farmed on the tidal River Stour estuary between Harwich and Manningtree

Large scale mussel farming could deter rare birds feeding on a "tranquil" river estuary with protected status, wildlife groups have warned.

Wash Mussels Ltd will create five "limited" test areas on the bed of the River Stour where 500 tonnes of mussels would be laid each year.

The RSPB is concerned about the impact of dredgers and farming on rare birds.

A public consultation runs until October.

Image copyright Mike Page Aerial Photography
Image caption A 2009 view upstream along the Stour with Harwich (top left), Shotley Gate (top right) and the Port of Felixstowe (foreground)
Image copyright Steve Plume/RSPB
Image caption The RSPB said tens of thousands of birds use the Stour estuary, including black tailed godwit

In 2014, the company applied for a licence for a five-year trial, but objections were raised about a lack of studies on the effects on wildlife.

'Limited operations'

The RSPB is worried about an adverse effect on the tens of thousands of birds, particularly goldeneye and red breasted merganser, which use the estuary, which has European Special Protection Area status.

Mark Nowers, RSPB conservation officer, said: "Any development needs to show these important species are not affected."

Proposed mussel beds

Image copyright APEM
Image caption The five proposed locations for the mussel beds are marked in red
  1. Erwarton Bay, Suffolk
  2. Copperas Bay east, Essex
  3. Harkstead Point, Suffolk
  4. Copperas Bay west, Essex
  5. Stutton Ness, Suffolk
  • covering a total of 85 hectares (210 acres)

Peter Scott, solicitor for Wash Mussels, said: "There will be limited operations and no equipment in situ, because there will be no ropes or nets.

"Noise from dredgers is pretty insignificant in terms of bird disturbance.

"If the trial is successful, there will be significant employment in dredging and preparing the product for market."

Image copyright Stour and Orwell Society
Image caption Erwarton Bay, where one mussels trial bed would be located, with Felixstowe in the background
Image copyright Stour and Orwell Society/Wash Mussels Limtited
Image caption Stutton Ness (the pointed outcrop at the centre of the picture on the left) and Graham Osbourne of Wash Mussels Ltd

Mr Scott said it would not put buoys on the river or sink pots to catch crabs which feed on mussels.

The Essex and Suffolk Wildlife Trusts said they would be reviewing the company's data as part of the public consultation which runs until 7 October.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it would consider the results of the consultation before deciding whether a licence should be granted.

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