Last Wednesday, business at the RSPB’s Minsmere reserve’s Bittern Hide was consistent. The hilltop shelter, which views out over a wide expanse of heath, freshwater pools, and reed beds extending to the Suffolk coast, was filled with more than a dozen birdwatchers. Marsh harriers whirled overhead, and a bittern would occasionally fly across the scene. Avocets swam leisurely across a lagoon in front of another adjacent hide. An ornithologist’s heaven, Minsmere.
But despite its wildlife splendors, there is a problem. The government will decide in a few days whether to permit EDF to construct the Sizewell C nuclear power plant on property that looks out over the 1,000-hectare (2,500-acre) reserve.
With approval, one of Europe’s largest construction projects will get the green light, having a significant influence on the reserve. Numerous massive cranes may be erected across the land that borders Minsmere, along with new roads, a temporary port, and other developments. The twin nuclear reactors for the massive project will continue to be built for at least ten years, day and night.
According to Adam Rowlands, Suffolk regional manager for the RSPB, “We are not opposed to the idea of there being energy infrastructure at the Sizewell site, but the anticipated impact of this specific project could be quite destructive.” “Species that we have fought to preserve here are under serious threat,”
Although its origins are odd, Minsmere, which is commemorating its 75th anniversary this year, is considered one of the UK’s finest nature reserves. Low-lying farmland in the region was decided to be flooded at the start of World War II as a defense against German invasion. Avocets, which had been extinct in the UK for more than a century, were found to have started breeding there after the war.
Rowlands continued, “There was a lot of pressure on landowners at the time to drain land and increase food production in the UK in the years after the war.
The area’s natural mixture of shingle beaches, coastal lagoons, grazing marshes, and woodland was ultimately determined to be preserved. In 1947, the RSPB took charge. Long before the phrase was used as an ecological buzzword, the land was essentially rewilded.
At Minsmere, numerous endangered animals like the bittern and marsh harrier discovered a priceless haven. The avocet’s appearance again, though, was what made the biggest difference. The black-and-white wader, with its recognizable up-curved beak, returned to Britain after a century away and started a small colony at Minsmere. From there, it slowly spread all over the country. The bird is currently represented in the RSPB’s logo as a symbol of hope in the cause of protecting threatened bird species. Currently, there are roughly 1,500 breeding pairs of the bird in the UK.
Avocets, bitterns, and marsh harriers aren’t the only inhabitants of Minsmere. The reserve is also home to otters, water voles, kingfishers, nightjars, woodlarks, Dartford warblers, adders, natterjack toads, and silver-studded blue butterflies. The variety of ecosystems, according to Rowlands, is what distinguishes Minsmere. Wet grassland, reed beds, ditches, coastal shingle, woods, heather heathland, and acid grassland are all present. This area is valuable.
Therefore, it raises concerns that a sizable development project would start on nearby territory. Around 1,600 employees are employed by EDF to construct the Hinkley Point C nuclear power project in Somerset each day. 3 million tons of concrete and 230,000 tons of steel will be needed to construct the new power plant, and the site is dominated by enormous 40-meter (130-foot) cranes. Its twin at Sizewell C will be built at the exact same scale.
In addition, Sizewell C will need a lot of water to produce the concrete required for construction as well as for its workers. In a region where supplies are already scarce, it is unclear where this water will come from.
Even more will be required to cool its reactors once it is finished. Rowlands added, “Warm water leaking from the reactor is another problem. Who might significantly effect the fish and shellfish populations in the area as well as the birds that eat them in the Minsmere area’s marine environment.
Although EDF has argued that the lessons it is learning in building the Somerset plant will be crucial in maintaining Sizewell C – which would provide electricity for 6 million homes in Britain – on target in terms of cost and schedule, Hinkley Point C is currently two years behind schedule and £8bn over budget after nine years of construction.
According to the corporation, it has already begun to plant trees along its border with the reserve to save Minsmere and has also built 47 hectares of additional marsh harrier habitat to the north of the construction site.
One of the largest dangers to biodiversity is climate change, and Sizewell will be crucial in reducing the carbon emissions that are fueling that shift, according to an EDF spokesperson. We must reach net-zero carbon emissions, and Sizewell C will be a vital factor in bringing us there when paired with Hinkley Point C and more nuclear projects.
The RSPB is nevertheless worried about the potential effects on the reserve, which it views as its crowning achievement. In order to build Sizewell C, Rowlands stated, “there are proposals to build a new port, a huge new road, and a new rail line onto the area beside this reserve.”
“That will make it very, very difficult for us to protect a place that is wonderfully beautiful and where tourists can see some of the best species in Britain.”
Lead Image: Avocets building a nest. After a century’s absence from Britain, the waders re-established a colony at RSPB Minsmere and have since spread further across the nation. Photograph: Graham Leese/Alamy.
What you can do
Support ‘Fighting for Wildlife’ by donating as little as $1 – It only takes a minute. Thank you.
Fighting for Wildlife supports approved wildlife conservation organizations, which spend at least 80 percent of the money they raise on actual fieldwork, rather than administration and fundraising. When making a donation you can designate for which type of initiative it should be used – wildlife, oceans, forests or climate.