EXPERTS at Slimbridge WWT fear proposed designs for a multi-billion pound tidal power scheme on the River Severn would cause ‘unacceptable damage’ to wildlife.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust warns that the Government’s suggested shortlist would damage populations of already threatened species and could even lead to extinction.

Now the charity, which claims decisions have been made for financial rather than environmental reasons, is calling for an independent environmental advisory group to be set up.

Speaking to the SNJ, Carrie Hume, head of conservation policy at the WWT, said: "Climate change is so huge we will have to look at a solution on the Severn which will damage the environment.

"But what we are not willing to accept is the Government not properly looking at solutions which could potentially rubbish the environment as it stands.

"There is no real evidence ministers are properly giving due account to the environmental impacts other than just trying to decide how much it would cost to replace the habitat.

"We cannot be certain how climate change will impact on the estuary but combined with climate change these schemes could result in extinction."

The proposed shortlist, which was recently subject to a three-month consultation, features three barrages and two lagoons.

Government figures show all the options would destroy some of the inter-tidal habitat, which hosts globally important numbers of several species and has special status under EU and international law.

The Cardiff-Weston barrage, which could generate five per cent of the UK’s electricity, would destroy 20,000 hectares of the 28,000 hectares of the habitat.

Meanwhile, the other five options, which could generate up to one per cent of the UK’s electricity, would destroy between 3,500 and 6,500 hectares.

Under EU law, the Government must replace any habitat destroyed on the estuary but Ms Hume said confidence in ministers was low after a study by Natural England found the task would be impractical.

"The five options proposed to be shortlisted would cause unacceptable damage to the environment," she said.

"It is difficult to know how the populations of birds would respond but I can only assume it would be negative because there are no other estuaries around here."

The WWT is among several wildlife groups which revealed the results on independent report this week showing the shortlist was ‘seriously flawed’.

Experts also want ministers to increase the current £500,000 pledged to developing more innovative solutions, such as a floating tidal reef.

Stroud District Council has backed the WWT in calling for an independent environmental review group to advise the Government.