Public consultations are currently underway regarding the proposed Looe Flood Defence and Regeneration Scheme. Given the role of Looe Marine Conservation Group to inform and educate, this statement has been prepared in response to questions raised by the community regarding environmental concerns.
The Looe Marine Conservation Group acknowledges that action needs to be taken to protect Looe from flooding, and since our establishment in 2008 we have therefore actively engaged with the several organisations who have led on the Looe outer harbour proposal in its various guises. As such, in 2019 we requested to join the stakeholder group coordinated by Arcadis/WSP for the current Looe Flood Defence and Regeneration Scheme ‘preferred option’ (please see the Let’s Talk Cornwall listing for full details).
We deemed this critical given that: 1) the marine environment around Looe is extremely important, both socially and economically, and; 2) there were no environmentally-focused organisations in the stakeholder group to ensure the proposed developments considered, and limited, their harm to the natural environment.
Importance of Looe’s Marine Environment
The waters around Looe boast a rich, diverse and important marine ecosystem, and this was legally recognised in 2013 with the designation of the Whitsand and Looe Bay Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). The MCZ protects ecosystems such as the extremely diverse rocky shore habitats, as well as more than 1 square kilometre of seagrass beds, the importance of which are globally-recognised for their ability to draw down and lock in carbon, and as nursery grounds for commercially important species such as sea bass. For the subsequent 10 years since the MCZ designation, key habitats and species in our waters have therefore been afforded protection from damaging, direct physical impacts.
Environmental Assessment to Date
To understand marine ecosystems in the local area, WSP contracted a marine environmental consultancy to undertake baseline surveys, the data from which will inform how the compulsory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is conducted to ensure protected habitats and species are considered. The report confirms the presence of habitats and species of conservation importance throughout the proposed development area and the wider Looe Bay. Looe MCG received this report in December 2022, and using expert knowledge within the group, has considered the potential impacts of the proposed development on the marine environment. In the case of the seagrass bed off East Looe beach, one of the largest in the Cornwall at >1 km2 and legally protected within our MCZ, the direct impact of constructing a breakwater in it, and extending the banjo into it, will cause significant direct harm. When paired with potential knock-on (indirect) impacts from altering the water movement, and therefore siltation in the area, the proposed development has the potential to devastate this protected and valuable blue carbon habitat, undoing years of conservation work, not only within the construction footprint but also further afield. Loss of the seagrass would decrease diversity of marine life in the bay, threaten commercially valuable fish species including seabass that use seagrass as a nursery for their young, and threaten our MCZ designation, thus potentially inviting further development. In addition to seagrass, other protected habitats and species will almost definitely be lost or irrevocably damaged including the rocky shore by White Rock and the Limmicks, stalked jellyfish, black seabream and the giant goby. We believe that the impacts will be too great to be permitted within a designated MCZ. Not only is this unacceptable for Looe itself, but it would also set a precedent for future projects that this level of development and damage is allowable within MCZs.
Protecting the Future
Best practice for any new development calls for negative impact on the environment to be avoided where possible, and only if the development is absolutely unavoidable, should mitigation measures be considered. The position of both Looe MCG and the Wildlife Trusts is that every development in the environment, whether marine or otherwise, should result in a lasting improvement to biodiversity, by assisting in nature’s recovery to create resilient habitats and species which can adapt to both climate change and development pressures. Whilst the Looe MCG appreciates the work of WSP’s environmental team in investigating how they can make the preferred development more ecologically friendly through adding tiles and reef cubes, this strategy is not ecologically sound, nor does it result in a lasting improvement to biodiversity.
Therefore, after consideration of the above, Looe MCG cannot support any option containing an outer breakwater, nor extension to the Banjo Pier, on the grounds it causes avoidable damage to the environment. Instead we call on all those involved in the scheme to reconsider all flood mitigation options which have been presented previously within this developing scheme, taking into account what is least damaging to the marine environment that many of us rely on, and that we’re so lucky to have in and around Looe.