Major plans by a government department to flood a large area of land in Purbeck to create mudflats and salt marshes have been submitted.
After years of discussions and assessments, the Environment Agency has finally submitted an application to Dorset Council for the Moors Coastal Change Project at Arne, which involves a 150 hectare site.
The multi-million pound project involves “breaking up” the existing tidal embankment in three places on the northern boundary to create new habitats.
To limit “tidal flooding”, two new recessed dykes would be created to the south and south-east of the site.
Proposals for the site near Wareham include the construction of two new tide-regulated salt lagoons and the enhancement of existing freshwater habitats.
A statement from the Environment Agency said it had engaged with residents of Wareham, Stoborough, Arne and Ridge since 2017 alongside partners from the RSPB and Natural England.
“To mitigate the loss of intertidal habitats due to a phenomenon called ‘coastal squeeze’, the Moors at Arne program developed the concept of allowing tides further inland to create the correct conditions for the wildlife that live in salt marshes or mudflats, without increasing the risk to life or property from flooding,” the statement said.
When discussions began about the project five years ago, residents expressed concerns about the project, including concerns about the impact it might have on the low-lying area near Ridge. Many opponents have referred to the new embankment to the south of the site as the “Great Wall of Dorset“.
Initially, it was expected that the planning application would be submitted in 2019, but the project has been delayed.
If the plans are approved, the works will take three years to create the conditions necessary to adapt the site into a suitable place for animals and plants with access for visitors.
The Environment Agency said the Arne Moors would create the compensatory habitat required to enable future coastal defense works to protect 3,000 properties in Poole Harbor from the risk of flooding.
A planning statement said that once operational the site would attract up to 22,000 additional visitors a year, but ‘this is not expected to result in any significant increase in traffic volumes on local roads’.