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Fears wind farm could ruin Whitstable’s world-famous oyster beds

Killer starfish lured by a wind farm extension could destroy Whitstable’s few remaining world-famous native oysters, a fisherman has warned.

Graham West of West Whelks has accused wind farm giants Vattenfall of ignoring fishermen’s fears.

He claims starfish that prey on shellfish are attracted to the warmer waters created by heat generated from underground cabling.

They feast on such shellfish as oysters and could thrive on the proposed wind farm extension.

Mr West said: “Vattenfall are trying to slip their planned extension through the back door. They are talking to Thanet fishermen but not us.”

He said: “Studies show how wind farms attract starfish that eat oysters. If that is true, they will wipe out most of the oyster population here and ruin our tourist industry.”

Vattenfall has begun a public consultation about its plans to add 17 turbines to the 30 already on the Kentish Flats offshore wind farm.

Mr West claims there have been just two meetings between Whitstable fishermen and Vattenfall.

He said: “Vattenfall should have come to the fishermen of Whitstable and asked us what the least damaging place for the wind farm is.

“I supply native oysters to 14 Michelin-starred restaurants every week. What will happen to my livelihood if I can no longer do that?

“We need to hear more about the potential problem with starfish. If the research is wrong, fine. But if it is correct it could wipe out our native industry and destroy Whitstable tourism in one hit.”

Oyster fisherman Andy Riches said Vattenfall moved the original site further north to avoid prime oyster grounds. Now the new proposed extension would be built on the first earmarked site.

He said: “I have seen evidence of the way starfish cloak themselves around shellfish and eat them out of their shells.”

But Vattenfall denies the claims.

Project manager Dr Goran Loman said: “We have been fulfilling our commitment to engage effectively with fishermen in the area.

“We have held five meetings with fishing interests since November last year. We have agreed in principle that we will pay compensation to fishermen for any economic loss during wind farm and cable installation.

“We have monitored the environmental effects of the existing wind farm and the proposal to extend it.

“Our extensive investigations suggest the wind farm and the export cable have not caused an increase in the number of starfish in the area or along the cable since installation in 2005.

“But we will continue to monitor the situation.”

He added: “What the science agrees on is that, when there is disturbance to the seabed, there can be an increase in food for starfish and this can lead to an increase in the local population.

“We have not been involved in any activity that would disturb the seabed in any significant way since 2005, when the existing wind farm was installed.”