A FLAGSHIP conservation project to protect rare wetland habitats is threatened by the planned HS2 rail link, a wildlife trust is warning.
Conservationists at the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside says the proposed high-speed route will slice straight through areas being restored for nature as it enters the borough.
The rail link will run within 90 metres of the Lightshaw Meadows site, which is part of an area of special scientific interest (SSI) and disrupt plans to link together hundreds of square miles of wetlands and marshlands in Wigan, Salford and Warrington.
The trust also worries that the line, which enters the borough near Culcheth and travels through Golborne and Lowton to meet the West Coast Mainline near Bamfurlong, will disturb threatened bird species which have begun breeding on Wigan’s nature reserves and expressed serious reservations about plans for a large rolling stock maintenance depot at Lowton Common.
David Dunlop, the trust’s advocacy officer, said: “The proposed routes would sever the Great Manchester Wetlands Nature Improvement Area, introducing further substantial barriers to the maintenance and restoration of networks for wildlife.
“Lightshaw Meadows would be directly impacted by the construction and operation of the proposed marshalling yard. The proposed development would also result in substantial loss of public amenity and diminution of value at the Abram Flashes.
“The construction and operation would, we believe, create such disturbance through 24-hour lighting and irregular noise and visual disturbance that the characteristic breeding bird communities would be diminished or lost.
“We are particularly alarmed at the suggestion of sensitive planting to buffer the SSSI. If this means tree and shrub planting, that would be wholly inappropriate next to an open wet grassland habitat: it would be likely to provide cover for predators of the ground-nesting birds.”
The flashes are home to creatures including amphibians such as the great crested newts, several species of warbler, numerous waders such as snipe and lapwings, barn owls and willow tits.
The 18-hectare nature reserve at Lightshaw has been created from mining subsidence and transformed the former industrial area.