Page last updated at 13:25 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 14:25 UK

Project to create wetland habitat

Skinflats RSPB reserve
The Skinflats site near Falkirk is hemmed in by heavy industry

A pioneering project is aiming to recreate a habitat for protected wildlife and reduce the threat of flooding from the River Forth.

Conservationists at the Skinflats RSPB sanctuary, near Falkirk, are preparing to allow sea water to flood the site.

They hope to create saline pools and salt marshes, boosting the the number of birds and otters on the reserve.

The £150,000 project is also designed to alleviate pressure along the coast, which has suffered from flooding.

Skinflats is hemmed in by major industrial developments like the giant refinery at Grangemouth, Longannet Power Station and the Kincardine bridge.

However, the RSPB said that with "good planning", local wildlife can still thrive in the area.

We can't claim that this project alone will make a noticeable difference to tide and flood levels, but by showing that this can be done safely, hopefully the door will be opened to more projects like this along the Forth
Nick Chambers

If successful, the plan should benefit species like wildfowl, pink-footed geese and waders.

The project, titled Skinflats Tidal Exchange Project, or Step Forth, will involve a pipe being inserted into the sea wall at the Skinflats reserve allowing the site to be flooded at high tide.

A new flood embankment at the back of the site will also contain the water on the reserve and ensure that no other properties or land will be affected.

Attract breeding

Although on a small scale, the plan could have implications for those looking to reduce the flood risk to populated areas in other parts of Scotland.

RSPB site manager Nick Chambers, said: "Step Forth is the first project of its kind in Scotland, to create a fantastic wetland habitat for wildlife like pink-footed geese, ringed plover, redshank and otter, as well as being a model for sustainable flood management in Scotland.

Pink-footed geese
Species like pink-footed geese could benefit from the scheme

"We can't claim that this project alone will make a noticeable difference to tide and flood levels, but by showing that this can be done safely, hopefully the door will be opened to more projects like this along the Forth.

"If enough land was managed like this to allow high tides to naturally flood coastal land, flooding could be alleviated for thousands of people living in places like Falkirk."

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), who contributed £67,000 towards the scheme said it would be watching closely to see if similar techniques could be applied elsewhere in Scotland.

Work on the site includes the construction of two pools and gravel topped islands, which should attract breeding ringed plover.

Other plans for the future include the building of footpaths and a hide on the reserve, allowing people to get close-up views of the resident and visiting wildlife.



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