Snails evidence is decidedly slippery

I REFER to Audrey Jones’ (Natural England) letter published in last week’s Observer (October 20), concerning the discovery of the Defolin’s lagoon snail at Pagham Harbour, measures for its protection, and the potential impact for flood defences.

Significantly she states that the snail was found at the ‘westernmost part’ of the Church Norton Spit, on the upper shingle shore. The location of the snail is critical in terms of the potential consequences for flood defences; in discussions leading to Balanced Seas’ recommendations, three different locations were given for it halfway along the spit. Later a position was given by one of the researchers who found it at the westernmost part of the spit to replace the earlier claims. Then this site was retracted, claiming it was in error, along with two of the earlier positions, leaving one position midway along the spit on the shingle bank as the basis for the recommendations to go forward.

Now we find the the quango which advises government on such matters (Natural England) has placed the snail at the western end of the spit once more!

Little is known about the snail, but the published data suggests that it is a lagoon snail, averse to tidal flow and preferring a shingle habitat where brackish water percolates through. The westernmost end, while not its typical habitat, is more believable than the position relied on by Balanced Seas: on shingle above high water adjacent to the Sidlesham Channel where there is current!

As a result of there being so much confusion over the location of the snail, and indeed whether there are any at all four years on, the final recommendations from Balanced Seas were based on the necessity for the site to be re-surveyed to see if the snail is still there. The position of the snail will need a 1km buffer zone according to the very rigid guidelines referred to above. These guidelines also explicitly exclude flood defence works.

I was also disappointed to note that she missed the opportunity to respond to many of the points raised on your pages over the past couple of months.

She failed to mention the point made by Cllr Roland O’Brien (Observer, August 25) about protection through a Site of Special Scientific Interest as less restrictive.

She cites a find of 40 snails at Pagham, but fails to say that only up to two in each of the two samples were alive. She suggested contacting the JNCC for more information without stating what this is: Joint Nature Conservation Committee, another quango which, along with Natural England, will decide which sites to put forward. Incidentally, one of the two researchers who discovered the snail at Church Norton works for the JNCC.

At a public meeting attended by more than 200 people in the summer, the chairman Nick Gibb MP indicated he would be calling another public meeting later this year. Let us hope by then he will have answers to the questions on people’s minds, and will have some positive feedback from the minister responsible: Richard Benyon MP.

Kirsten Lanchester,