THE Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE) were both ‘clearly implicated’ in a plan to turn nearly 1,000 acres of prime West Somerset farmland into wetland, said local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.

Mr Liddell-Grainger accused the two agencies of hiding behind a smokescreen while they promoted a project which had already aroused a lot of anger among local people.

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station constructor EDF has unveiled proposals to create a £40 million wetland at Pawlett, close to the mouth of the River Parrett, instead of installing acoustic fish deterrents on its cooling water intakes and outfall heads in the Bristol Channel.

It said the project was intended create new habitats for fish and animals, improve local water quality, and help prevent flooding.

But local residents have formed a Protect Pawlett Hams protest group to fight the plan and prevent the loss of valuable farmland and changes to the entire character of the area.

The Environment Agency told the Free Press the wetland project was EDF’s and the EA would be only a consultee, which Mr Grainger said Natural England had also claimed.

But Mr Liddell-Grainger said their claims were disingenuous.

He said: “They are clearly implicated. Their fingerprints are all over it.

“It is inconceivable that EDF could have come up with this highly illogical alternative to a fish deterrent system without some vigorous prodding from the EA and NE.

“It all fits with the secret blueprint that exists to gradually remove livestock farming and turn the Levels into one big nature reserve.

“Let us not forget that it was not that many years ago that the head of Natural England was suggesting blowing up the pumping stations and letting the entire area flood.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger said he had raised the issue with a Minister in the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

“He was shocked at the scale of what is being proposed,” he said.

“The Pawlett campaigners have my full support because I can see tens of millions of public money being squandered on this - a scheme that nobody wants and whose claimed benefits cannot even be guaranteed.”

A spokesperson for both the Environment Agency and Natural England said: “This is EDF’s proposal for a wetland scheme and part of their wider proposed compensation package.

“The Environment Agency and Natural England are reviewing the plan presented by EDF in the development consent order (DCO) pre-application consultation.

“Both organisations continue to provide advice and guidance to the company through the planning pre-application phase, which is the same approach that we would take with any planning application where our advice is sought.”