PLANS for a huge wind farm off the Hampshire coast have sparked fears that the project will damage the county’s salmon fishing industry.

Natural England, the agency that advises the Government on wildlife issues, claims the construction of the Navitus Bay scheme will prevent salmon from returning to their spawning grounds.

But bosses behind the £3 billion development say they are taking steps to enable the fish to complete their journey home from the Arctic.

Natural England is worried about a sub-species of salmon that originates in the chalk streams of Hampshire and Dorset, including the rivers Test and Itchen.

It claims the noise made by driving the foundations of the turbines deep into the seabed could deter fish from returning to the rivers.

Salmon are highly sensitive to noise and are said to regard it almost as a physical barrier.

Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust, a charity established to protect the rivers and the fishing businesses that depend on them, echoed the comments made by Natural England.

The trust says it fears that salmon fishing in Hampshire and Dorset could be permanently damaged.

Commenting on the wind farm the trust’s director, Tom Davis, said: “We’re enthusiastic about any strategy that reduces dependence on fossil fuels but not when it has a significant impact on the natural assets we’re here to protect.”

Navitus Bay Development (NBD) aims to start construction in 2017 if the scheme is approved.

Responding to fears about the potential impact on salmon, NBD spokesman Stuart Grant said piling would be limited to eight hours a day between April 1 and April 15.

And he confirmed that no piling would take place between April 15 and May 15, the period of “peak sensitivity” for salmon.

“Discussions with the relevant statutory bodies about these restrictions are on-going,” added Mr Grant.

As reported in the Daily Echo, NBD is seeking consent to build 194 turbines capable of generating enough electricity to power 700,000 homes.

The 200m turbines will be only 14.5 miles from Lymington and less than 12 miles from Milford on Sea.