Concerns have been raised that plans to protect three rare birds which spend the winter in Falmouth, could prove a “nail in the coffin” for the port's future development.

Assurances have been made by Natural England, though, that the proposed Special Protection Area (pSPA) in Falmouth Bay, should not impact on plans to dredge a deep water channel into the docks.

The pSPA is currently being consulted upon with people having until April 14 to have their say on the plans. The area, which would stretch from Falmouth Bay to St Austell Bay, provides a winter home for the rare and endangered great northern diver, black-throated diver and Slavonian grebe.

Falmouth Town Council was given a presentation by two representatives from Natural England on Monday night, who said they have been working closely with Falmouth Harbour Commissioners over the proposals.

As a result, a working agreement has been signed between the two organisations to “facilitate further research and ensure that any management measures proposed are supported by robust science.”

Harriet Knowles, FHC's environment manager, said: “We are encouraged that Natural England has concluded that current port activities pose low risk to the bird species.”

Councillors and A&P Falmouth's port operations director, Mike Reynolds, are not quite so confident.

Mr Reynolds said: “Previous environmental designations have unfortunately severely impacted on commercial activities in the Port of Falmouth; the ongoing costs and delays in achieving the dredging for Falmouth and Cornwall is a very clear example of this.

“We hope this is not another example which will threaten jobs and the future of the port, we have made this point clear to Natural England in the process to date and will be re-emphasising this during the consultation.”

Falmouth councillors, while supporting the pSPA, want to ensure it has no impact on the town and port's economic growth and are questioning the need for such blanket cover.

Councillor Alan Jewell said: “There are other places these birds can go, but we have one of the deepest harbours which is a big economic driver for Cornwall. This will be another nail in our coffin if we are not careful.”

Councillor Candy Atherton said: “There are real concerns around the town that this is going to affect some of the activities that are absolutely critical to the biodiversity of Falmouth.”

When asked to confirm the pSPA would not affect plans to dredge the channel, Natural England's Richard Cook said: “The vulnerability assessment has indicated a low risk of impact on the bird species, but monitoring is required to ensure that is the case.”

Anyone wishing to comment on the pSPA can do so by visiting