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Wildlife reserve at Cliffe threatened by huge funding cut

PUBLISHED: 12:29 27 October 2010

Malcolm Jennings at Cliffe pools

Malcolm Jennings at Cliffe pools

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A VITAL wildlife habitat already under threat from massive development in north Kent faces another threat to its future unless essential funding for improvement works can be found.

Plans were in place for the RSPB Cliffe Pools reserve, to the east of Gravesend, which were set to make the area a major venue for birdwatchers across London and the south east, and would have made it capable of welcoming thousands of visitors a year.

But the Reporter can reveal that funding for the reserve, which was to be used for improvement works including a visitor centre and habitat management schemes, has been earmarked for other projects.

Regular visitors to the area fear that the future of the important reserve, which is home to huge flocks of wading birds and waterfowl, could now be under threat from the massive development in the Thames unless the funding is found.

The area is facing the threat of Boris Johnson’s plan for an airport of the north Kent coast, the Third Thames Crossing and the Thames Gateway development.

Malcolm Jennings, who has just stepped down as the long time leader of the 300 member Gravesend and District RSPB Local Group told the Reporter that the RSPB will need to find about £3.5million for the works. He said: “It is very disappointing, very frustrating and very annoying.

“The plans were in place and the vision was there. But that has all gone. The problem that the RSPB face is to try and keep something going there so that people feel that there is still a future. But that is difficult.

“The area is already under constant threat from the Thames Gateway project, the Medway town’s development and Boris Island.

“It is a special place that needs protecting and enhancing. This was going to be a huge leap forward.”

The Heritage Lottery Fund was lined up to provide half of the money for the improvement scheme, but the money eventually went to Essex. The other would be funder, The Thames Gateway Parkland Scheme, also pulled out.

The improvement scheme would have also meant access for a wide range of people as a “gateway” to the nearby reserves of High Halstow, and the north Kent marshes area which is internationally designated.

Mr Jennings said: “This was going to be a way for people to appreciate it and protect it for the future. It is no one’s fault, but it makes you want to jump up and down.”

New leader of the group, Jeff Kirk, said: “We are not going to see the development that was first envisaged, and most people are aware of the need for large sums of money to be put into the reserve.

“It is disappointing that the RSPB cannot go ahead as fast as it would have liked to have done.”

Mr Jennings added: “The RSPB are in desperate need for £3.5 million to make all of these improvements, but that is unlikely in the near future.

“The support of the development of Cliffe Pools, to conserve the wildlife and to allow more people to engage with wildlife is an important part of what the local group does.

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“It is certainly what I have been trying to achieve for the last 10 years. Cliffe Pools needs friends and the local group no doubt will continue with the work we do.”

Rolf Williams, a spokesperson for the RSPB said: “We are taking the long view. It’s a great place for bird-watching already, and we will eventually get the infrastructure in, but on a different timescale.

“There is a new car park, and some new sluices, which are a major step forward in the management of the site for wading birds and terns. They also mean the pools are connected and water levels can be managed. Toilets are also on the cards.”

The North Kent Marshes, of which Cliffe Pools is a part of, is one of 22 Environmentally Sensitive Areas in the UK, as recognised by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The RSPB claim up to 300,000 migrant birds use the mudflats of the Thames marshes as a regular haven in their migratory journeys between the Arctic and Africa.

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