A CONTROVERSIAL £20million wildlife reserve at the mouth of the River Parrett has been dubbed “environmental vandalism”.

The Environment Agency and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust were granted planning permission two years ago to create the wetlands at Steart.

But local farmers whose land was bought at the time have dubbed the project ‘Disney for Ducks’ and are unhappy about how it has turned out.

Robert Pocock, aged 64, from Stringston, was one of the farmers whose land at Steart was bought two years ago. He told the Weekly News he feels that they had no choice but to sell.

He said: “They put it to us that they were not going to keep the flood defences up so we had the choice of taking £5,000 an acre or staying on flooded farmland.”

Ben Tarr, 33, also took the decision to sell some of his family’s farmland. He said: “We did feel put upon to sell the land.

“Everybody who was involved got set back by it. I have replaced our land but it cost us a significant amount of money.”

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said the wetlands had to be built under EU law.

He said: “Inter-tidal wetlands, which are very valuable habitats, have been lost through climate change and also through man-made structures such as tidal defences.

“To compensate for that, you have to build a habitat. It’s not an option. If we don’t follow this EU directive we could be prosecuted for not implementing EU law.”

But Mr Tarr said: “It was a pretty flourishing natural habitat down there anyway. Considering Bridgwater was nearly flooded this year, surely the money could have been better spent.

“I did some contracting work down there and what they have done is absolutely destroy it. I didn’t even recognise where I was because they ripped out all the landmarks.”

Mr Pocock said: “I call it environmental vandalism. I never go down there any more because it just makes me depressed.

“People do not respect food production. It was good ground. They have no idea what people need for farming.

The wetlands are due to be ready by September and Mark Simpson of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, was positive about them. He said: “Three 3km of pathways have just been opened this year. It’s an open bit of landscape so people are free to visit it whenever they like.

“People who live nearby will be able to take their dogs for a walk. There will be toilets and a car park. A lot of local people can get involved by volunteering and we hope to bring school groups down eventually.”

Adam George, Oxford Brookes PhD student who is teaching at Bridgwater College’s animal conservation programme, said: “Wetlands provide protection from flooding and offer temporary or enduring habitats for a diverse range of flora and fauna.”