A VOLUNTARY group which has looked after a York riverside nature park for almost 30 years is to fold in the wake of controversial plans to upgrade flood defences.

The Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows has delivered a scathing criticism in its 29th and final annual report of the Environment Agency’s £12 million scheme for the Clifton Ings Barrier Bank by the Ouse.

It says the meadows cover about 44 acres of the Clifton floodplain on York’s northern outskirts, have been managed for conservation since 1990 and were notified by Natural England as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), along with Clifton Ings, in 2013.

The report says the Friends agreed in November 2018 that they did not wish to be "involved in any mitigation where we consider the proposals inadequate, inappropriate or under-funded".

It says: “As the approved planning application stands, the proposals are exactly that and there is nothing in any of the documents about how the remaining parts of the site will be managed and funded into the future.”

The report says that last October, after City of York Council’s planning committee approved the scheme, the Friends confirmed its view that the agency was "not to be trusted in the delivery of a full and long-term mitigation, as they have neither the will, ability, knowledge or budget to deliver it after damaging what will be hectares of historic SSSI".

It continues: "We will not engage with substandard mitigation in order to burnish the EA’s public image. We made a clear offer to work with them on the mitigation if we were satisfied with the method and they chose to ignore this.”

The report says it was also agreed that the Friends were unwilling to take any part in an ‘advisory’ board as this would have no control over ensuring the site was mitigated or restored.

Mick Phythian, of the Friends, which is part of York Natural Environment Trust, said it would cease to exist when the agency’s scheme started because it would no longer receive funding from the Rural Payments Agency.

Environment Agency project manager Richard Lever said the decision to disband the Friends was "regrettable". He said that as part of the planning permission for the flood defences, an advisory committee had been formed, made up of ecologists from the council, Natural England and the agency and the Friends had been invited to sit on it.

“The committee will look at aspects of the work and the future management of the site,” he said, adding that the project would better protect 140 homes from flooding and the work was due to start this year.