A GROUP of Hampshire residents concerned about the environmental impact of new ferries on the Isle of Wight crossing took their case to the High Court today.

The Lymington River Association says that the bigger boats introduced by Wightlink Ltd are harming mud flats, salt marshes and the river bank, because of their propulsion and steering systems.

The Association's barrister William Norris QC told Mr Justice Owen that there are concerns over the environmental impact of the W Class ferries in an area rich with bird and marine life.

He said the ferries introduced in February this year were "unlawful" and the "project" to bring them in fell foul of the Habitats Directive/Regulations, a European law designed to protect the environment.

The barrister also argued that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) should have intervened at the time the ferries came in but failed to do so.

"Since no other body with any regulatory authority was willing to intervene, it was left to the Lymington River Association to act," he added.

Mr Norris says that an "appropriate assessment" should have been carried out by a Government department before the ferries were introduced.

He added that the ferries affect the river because of the wash they create, their "drawdown" of water, and the sediment that is stirred up from the river bed.

Wightlink says that the ferries will travel more slowly in the river to mitigate the problems, but Mr Norris insists that won't be enough.

Richard Drabble QC, for Wightlink, urged Mr Justice Owen to dismiss the judicial review challenge as well.

He added that Wightlink had "no reasonable alternative" but to introduce the new ferries as the ones they replaced were "at the end of their safe operational life".

A "careful and rigorous" process of analysis of the impact took place, said Mr Drabble, conducted by ABPmer, a leading UK marine environmental consultancy, and it had concluded that the new ferries would have "no adverse effect".