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Battle on the beach to beat grass invader.

Byline: Mike Hornby

MILLIONS of tonnes of sand could be removed from Wirral's coastline in a bid to protect the Peninsula from a fastspreading grass, it was revealed last night.

The build-up of sand dunes on Wirral's beaches is causing the spread of spartina grass, which attracts mosquito colonies.

But conservation chiefs are faced with a tough choice, as removing vast amounts of sand could lead to localised flooding.

Lowering the beach levels would allow sand to blow into and block roadside drains, risking flooding to roads and nearby homes.

However, leaving the dunes and grass untouched could lead to a mosquito infestation like that witnessed at Parkgate marshes in 1994.

Senior area ranger Adam King said high winds were creating sand dunes along the Peninsula's coastline, particularly on the West Kirby side of the shore near to the Royal Liverpool Golf Club.

He said: "The build-up of sand dunes is giving us concern about the extent of the spartina grass and the possibility that mosquitos could follow.

"A possibility would be to remove millions of tonnes of sand and reduce the whole level of the beach.

"We have to consider that the dunes do an important job by trapping sand on the beach and prevent it blowing on to the roads.

"The entire natural form of the coastline from West Kirby to New Brighton is vegetated sand dunes, but we need to balance nature with the amenity of people living here."

Spartina anglica was deliberately introduced to Parkgate in the 1950s as part of a land reclamation programme.

However, when combined with the marshy mud flats of the Dee estuary, it gives rise to an annual plague of the aedes detritus mosquito.

Now the spartina, along with other species of grass, has moved as far as Hoylake and West Kirby.

"Even if mosquitos do not follow, the grass is a problem in itself, " said Mr King.

"Many people object to having grass on the beach because it doesn't look natural or attractive, and we have to listen to the views of the public.

"The grass and the sand are so linked that it would be impossible to manage one without the other. Both are integral to the nature of the beach.

"In planning for the future, we have to consider the needs of a huge number of interested parties."

Wirral Council recently formed a Beach Management Advisory Group consisting of members of the local authority, wildlife interest groups and recreational organisations.

The group has just sent its first draft of proposals on the Estuary's future to English Nature, the advisory body to the government on nature conservation.

Because the estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and protected under European law, measures taken by the council must have the approval of English Nature.

It is thought that the sand could be sold to the glass-making industry, but Mr King was unable to confirm this would be done.

But the policy is likely to incur the wrath of English Nature, which wants to protect the spartina.

English Nature's maritime conservation officer, Dr Martin Bailey, said:

"We would not approve of any action which resulted in the ploughing up of the spartina, it would be against conservation regulations.

"We have been in negotiations with Wirral Council, and essentially both parties have agreed to differ on this matter.

"They want to see the coastline remain as a public beach, we would prefer it to be allowed to develop naturally.

"English Nature has the draft proposals and we will be looking for common ground from there.

"The most favourable solution will be to zone the area and specify which areas can be ploughed and which cannot."

CAPTION(S):

UNDER THREAT: Fast-spreading grass at Parkgate is causing problems on the beach
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 7, 2002
Words:628
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