WORK on the UK’s biggest flood management scheme – dubbed ‘Disney for ducks’ by its critics – has been completed.

Just before 7am yesterday (Monday) high tides entered 250 hectares of low-lying land at the Steart peninsula for the first time in centuries, through the newly excavated 200-metre gap in the Parrett Estuary coastal embankments.

The Environment Agency says the completion of the Steart Marshes – which Bridgwater’s MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has branded a £30million ‘white elephant’ – will allow it to continue its maintenance of flood risk schemes elsewhere in the Severn Estuary that protect 100,000 homes and businesses.

Rising sea levels are predicted to result in loss of inter-tidal habitat in the estuary and the agency says the marshes at Steart will replace around half of this loss and reduce the flood risk for communities.

However, the project has sparked controversy, with some farmers whose land was bought to create the habitat, branding the area ‘Disney for ducks’.

And speaking to the Mercury yesterday, longstanding opponent of the project Mr Liddell- Grainger said: “It is a complete and utter waste of money and a complete white elephant.

“It’s £30 million which could’ve been spent on the barrage or new flooding pumps for the Levels.”

But Environment Agency spokesman Richard Cox said: “Over 200km of coastal banks around the Severn Estuary reduce flood risk to more than 100,000 homes and businesses – a benefit valued at £5 billion.

“Saltmarsh is a natural flood risk management scheme – like coral reefs or mangroves in the tropics, saltmarsh takes energy out of the tide and reduces wave height.

“The Steart project will directly protect homes, businesses and the surrounding infrastructure.”

The wetlands are a joint project between the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the Environment Agency, with plans first unveiled in December 2010.

Martin Spray, chief executive of the trust, said: “We need to be brave and bold if we are going to deal with the impacts of climate change.

“Steart Marshes proves you can protect homes and businesses by using wetland technology that works with nature, not against it.”