A LARGE project to create new wetlands near Wareham is expected to be approved by Dorset Council this week.

It is claimed that the project could bring an extra 20,000 tourists a year to the area and will improve public access to parts of the site.

The Environment Agency proposals will take three years to create new salt marshes and mudflats over an area of 200 hectares east of the communities of Arne and Ridge.

Project workers will breach some of the existing tidal embankments and provide new earth structures in other areas along with flapped surface water outfalls, tidal exchange culverts and an improved channel and outfall for the Furzebrook Stream,

New footpaths will also be created along with screened areas to allow visitors to watch the birds and other creatures which are expected to be attracted by the changes.

Discussions about the multi-million pound project started in 2017 and have involved a series of meeting over the years with residents in Wareham, Stoborough, Arne and Ridge.

Covid delayed the progress of the scheme which was initially expected to considered for planning consent in 2019.

Some objections have described the proposed embankment south of the site as “The Great Wall of Dorset” with concerns also raised about the chances of flooding for low-lying areas near Ridge.

Two new set back embankments are planned in the south and south east of the site with the area closest to Wareham seeing the construction of two new tidal-regulated saline lagoons and the enhancement of the existing freshwater habitats.

The RSPB, which has a reserve at Arne, and Natural England have partnered the Environment Agency throughout the project.

Said a statement from the project management team: “To mitigate the loss of intertidal habitats due to a phenomenon called ‘coastal squeeze’, the Moors at Arne scheme has developed the concept of allowing tides further inland to create the correct conditions for wildlife that lives on salt marsh or mudflat, without increasing risk to life or property from flooding.”

The application is due to come before the Dorset Council eastern area planning committee, meeting in the Allendale Centre, Wimborne on Wednesday, January 11th.

Officers are recommending accepting the proposal with most of the site owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds with Natural England owning the land occupied by Sunnyside Farm.

Among those expressing concerns is a petition from 24 residents worried about the impact of construction traffic with others worried about visitor parking if the additional ‘ecotourists’ materialised once the work is completed.