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Icelandic dams threaten mere's pink-footed geese.

Byline: Claire Tolley

THOUSANDS of pink-footed geese who winter in the region are under threat from plans to build power stations in their native Iceland, it was revealed last night. Environmental campaigners say the population of up to 25,000 geese who flock to West Lancashire's Martin Mere each year, could be decimated by the proposals.

They claim thousands of birds, whose spectacular arrival on the marshlands near Ormskirk draws admirers from across the UK, will disappear over the coming years as their breeding ground is destroyed. The Icelandic government has already given approval for a towering dam to be built and another is being considered, which will destroy 85sq km of wildlife-rich land to power North American-owned aluminium plants. Rob Hughes, the Daily Post's countryside correspondent, said disruption to breeding and nesting grounds could spell potential disaster for the whole population of pink-footed geese. ``The only have breeding grounds in a few areas, on the high plateaus in Iceland and a couple of areas elsewhere, so any disturbance there would have major implications for the world population,'' he warned. Eileen Rees, head of the waterbird population research unit at Martin Mere, said the Trust had even written to the prime minister of Iceland to stop the dams.

She said: ``Obviously, we're unhappy. In 1981 there was a declaration there would be no development in the area and part of it was named as a nature reserve and site of international importance. ``But they retained the right for this particular scheme and now it has been agreed through the planning agency. ``We wrote to the Icelandic environment minister and the prime minister to no avail. ``But the scheme will contravene an international convention which denotes it a site of international importance because it will affect more than 1pc of the world-wide population.

``Nobody y has actually modelled what the impact will be here. The dams aren't going to kill the birds, they will reduce the number of young birds each year so theoretically it could reduce rates of population.'' The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said Iceland has almost 90pc of the world-wide population of the geese. It estimates as many as one in seven of the pink-footed geese visiting the UK in winter could be affected or displaced by the hydroelectric schemes. Southport's RSPB spokesman Tony Baker said: ``This would be catastrophic. The birds have probably been nesting in these areas for thousands of years. ``You could be talking about a large part of the world-wide population disappearing because there are very few areas suitable for them to nest in.''

Work has already begun on the Karahnjukar scheme in the east of the country which will damage the breeding, feeding and moulting areas for 3,000 pairs of pink-footed geese. The proposal will flood 56km of the geese's habitat. Meanwhile, a second proposed dam in the central highlands will stand 578m high and destroy a further 29sq km.

Johann Oli Hilmarsson, of the Icelandic Society of the Protection of Birds, said: ``If these projects go ahead it will be a loss not only to Iceland but also to the world.''

CAPTION(S):

DAY TRIPPERS: Martin Mere is a major attraction for a day out for families and bird watchers; IN DANGER: Pink-footed geese
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EXIC
Date:Jan 14, 2003
Words:546
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