MP questions Eric Pickles on priorities for Fens rivers in light of £18m spend on habitat for birds

PUBLISHED: 14:56 11 February 2014 | UPDATED: 14:57 11 February 2014

Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles

PA Wire/Press Association Images

MP Steve Barclay has tackled communities minister Eric Pickles about an £18m habitat for birds in East Cambridgeshire whilst money remains tight for river maintenance.

Mr Barclay said during a House of Commons debate on Monday: “ The Environment Agency is spending £18million on water logging some of the best farmland in the country in my constituency to create a habitat for birds in a scheme due to start in a couple of months.

“Will (the minister) examine the resource allocation within the Environment Agency, because it is not just dredging but wider river maintenance that matters in areas such as the Cambridgeshire Fens?”

Mr Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, told the NE Cambs MP he was “somewhat conflicted on this.”

Referring to the Habitat Creation Project – agreed seven years ago and due to crease a minimum of 500 hectares of new wetland grass habitat- Mr Pickles said Mr Barclay had made “a very good point”.

“When I am not here I am somewhat of a twitcher and I was very much looking forward to the particular habitat (Mr Barclay) was talking about.

“He makes a reasonable point: we now need to look at priorities. We need to consider things not only in terms of where people live, but in terms of ensuring that we are able to produce sustainably the products from agriculture that this nation so desperately needs, and so reduce our imports and dependency on elsewhere.

“He makes a very good point.”

The £18m project has come about because of a decline in the numbers of some protected bird species using the Ouse Washes which has been linked to the changes in the annual pattern of flooding.

The Ouse Washes Habitat Creation Project has been set up to reverse this decline by creating a new wildlife haven through the establishment of wet grassland habitat.

The first phase covers an area close to Wardy Hill, situated mainly in the parish of Coveney, but extending into Witcham.

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