YESTERDAY was an excellent day if you happen to be a lapwing.

And also probably a day for rejoicing if you're a Hampshire oystercatcher, brent goose or wigeon.

Because the government's decision to block the Dibden Bay development has saved what is described as "the ultimate bird table".

In turning down ABP's proposal to create a massive round-the-clock port there transport minister Tom McNulty was following Labour's pledge not to destroy precious wildlife for the sake of short-term economic gain.

He said: "One important factor in making the decision was the environmental impact of the proposals on internationally protected sites."

The 300 hectare area - about one-third the size of Heathrow Airport - is teeming with wildlife and protected by international, national and local environmental designations.

ABP's plans were opposed by numerous influential organisations including Friends of the Earth, English Nature, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, the environment Agency, the Countryside Agency and the Council for National Parks.

English Nature warned that the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Dibden Bay, created in 2001, would be lost and seven other SSSI's adversely affected should the project be given the go ahead.

It would also have damaged the edge of the proposed New Forest National Park, for which Dibden Bay provides its only access to the sea.

More specifically, experts warned that the loss of mudflats, plus coastal erosion from dredging would play havoc with the local environment and jeopardise local populations of rare wildlife.

The Solent and Southampton Water Special Protection Area is used by 50,000 waterbirds each winter, making it one of the most important sites of its kind in the country.

Fifteen thousand of these feed in Southampton Water and Dibden Bay, a place the RSPB describe as "irreplaceable".

Oystercatchers, wigeon, curlew, lapwing all live there, as do grey-bellied brent geese.

The salt marshes support cord grass, marsh samphire and sea purslane.

The lapwing also breed in the grasslands behind the shore, which is home to over 80 rare insects.

This makes it of huge importance to bird experts who believe the lapwing population to have fallen by 40 per cent between 1970 and 1998, with them becoming extinct in some areas.

English Nature's Hampshire and Isle of Wight conservation officer, Steve McMullon, said the impact of the Dibden Bay port would have been "huge and unacceptable".

This is because of the role the mudflats and grasslands play in supporting migrating birds, many of which fly in from as far away as the Arctic Circle.

After homing in on Southampton, they wait for low tide before swarming onto the mud and eating the worms, fish and invertebrates that live there.

Mr McMullon explained: "They build up on fat supplies so they can make it to the Arctic to breed. They flock there and feed as fast as they can then fly off. It's the ultimate bird table. If you dig down it's chock-a-block with worms and invertebrates.

"The mudflats in front of Dibden is the jewel in the crown of Southampton Water."

Mr McMullon believes that had the port proposal gone through, bird population numbers would have suffered.

"They would have had to feed elsewhere and the pressures on the birds for feeding resources would have been huge."

And for some, this would have resulted in death for those migrating from the Arctic to other European countries who use Southampton Water for a pit stop to top up on food levels.

"If they lost that they might not make it to their destination," said Mr McMullon.

The Environment Agency was concerned that the new port would slash wild salmon numbers by preventing the fish from returning to the rivers Test and Itchen to breed.

Friends of the Earth questioned ABP's concern for environmental issues on the grounds that it has threatened to take the government to court for designating the Humber Estuary under the EU Habitats Directive and opposing Dibden Bay's designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

A spokesman said: "Rather than face up to its environmental and social responsibilities...ABP is fighting for its speculative profits every step of the way."

The outcome of the Dibden Bay inquiry will have been keenly watched by those involved in the three other controversial planned ports around the country, especially the proposed development at Bathside Bay, in Essex, the public inquiry which started yesterday.

In the light of this, Friends of the Earth has been pushing the government to develop a national strategy for its ports, a move which has been resisted in favour of a independent decision for each separate case.

Its spokesman Brenda Pollack said: "They (the government) are not keen to turn down business applications like this. We do have hope that they will stick to policies in the future.

"It was such a clear case of wanton destruction for Dibden, it would have been such a blot on the landscape."

And, after all, this is not the first time the south's wildlife have unwittingly flexing their muscles in a stand off with big business's bulldozer.

Ten years ago brent geese put the cat among the pigeons when they scuppered Portsmouth Football Club's plans for a new multi-million pound stadium in Farlington to the north of the city.

So that's 2-0 to the birds then.