THE RSPB is warning of the "disastrous" effect a new Severn Barrage would have on Gwent’s environment, wildlife and tourism industry following a investigation into the consequences of a similar Dutch project.

The RSPB says an official report into the effects of a storm surge barrier built across the Oosterschelde estuary in Holland during the 1980s demonstrates the impact a proposed 10 mile barrage between Somerset and Cardiff could have, including: * The loss of large areas of mud flats leading to an increased risk of flooding.

* The loss of wildlife which could affect the number of tourists attracted to the area.

* Changes in mud flats making shipping channels difficult to navigate.

The £23 billion Severn Barrage project, which could generate up to five per cent of the UK's electricity, is one of five schemes being considered by the government to harness energy from the River Seven.

Two other barrage schemes and two lagoon projects are also being looked at.

A final decision on which project gets to go ahead is not due until later this year, but RSPB Cymru's head of conservation Dr Sean Christian said there are far less environmentally damaging ways to harness energy than a Severn Barrage.

But assembly member for Newport West Rosemary Butler highlighted evidence that the Severn Estuary is already becoming an increasingly hostile environment for wildlife, and that this would only increase if sea levels started to rise.

She said: “With a barrage local people would actually see more biodiversity, more potential for tourism, more leisure activities and more jobs.”

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said it was considering parallels with the Dutch storm surge barrier as part of its two-year feasibility study currently being carried out in to tidal power project in the Severn Estuary.