FLOOD defence experts have promised worried residents they have nothing to fear from controversial proposals to open parts of Canvey to the tides.

Speaking at a special presentation, Environment Agency planners reassured residents a proposed scheme to create saltwater wetlands in the west of the island would benefit everybody.

Phil Shaw, a consultant ecologist with the agency, told the meeting at the Oysterfleet Hotel, in Knightswick Road, Canvey, the aim was to create a “mosaic of habitats” across the Thames Estuary.

He said: “There is no reason why we cannot have an intertidal habitat which can be used by people and creatures.

“It is just people have not designed them yet.

“This could be one of the first.”

Concerns had been raised the island’s existing Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nature reserve would be threatened by the proposals, which are part of the Thames Estuary 2100 flood defence scheme.

Mr Shaw conceded creating a saltwater marsh would scupper the society’s plans to establish a freshwater habitat in western Canvey, but claimed the idea was not feasible anyway.

He said: “We have been talking to the RSPB for some time.

“It is not clear to us how they have come up with plans for a freshwater habitat.

“To me, that seems illogical because the only source of fresh water for western Canvey is through rainfall.

“There is a point of conflict between what we are doing and what the RSPB wants to do locally, but I believe we are all working towards a common goal of preservation.”

However, Mr Shaw’s argument was met with scorn by many residents at the meeting.

Rod Cowley, 63, of Helden Avenue, Canvey, dismissed the Environment Agency’s plans as uncaring. He said: “What you are suggesting is a disgrace. The RSPB is not just four letters, it is a million members. By plotting this, you are insulting us all.”

Dave Blackwell, leader of Canvey’s Independent Party, accused the Environment Agency of using Canvey as an “experiment”.

He said: “What will happen to all the freshwater wildlife that already lives on the island?

“Where will all the lizards, grass snakes and water voles go when the tides come in twice a day? You are trying to use Canvey as an experiment, as a testing ground for these plans. The people will not stand for this.”

In response, Sarah Lavery, project manager of the Thames Estuary 2100 scheme, emphasised the proposals were not yet finalised and the public’s opinion would be taken into account before a draft plan was completed in April 2009.

She said: “We have made no secrets of what we are doing. We have consulted the public at every stage and part of the purpose of that is to understand what people think of the plans.

“All the feedback we receive will be used when we are putting together the final package.”