One of the Midlands' most important marshlands is to undergo major improvement work amid fears that rare species and habitats could be lost forever.
Wilden Marsh and Mead-ows near Kidderminster, in Worcestershire, is legally protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its unique, rare and special features.
But because of flood alleviation works it is gradually being drained and there is a danger irreplaceable areas could be destroyed forever.
The project will see water levels raised, but special care will be taken to ensure the water quality is not affected and local properties are not put at risk of flooding.
Wilden Marsh is home to rare plants, old willows and about 70 species of breeding birds.
But falling water levels have led to new plant communities emerging on the marsh as it becomes more drained and there has been a decline in swamp and wet woodland habitats.
The rescue package will also include a plan to increase the number of different plant species and, where possible, to restore and recreate surrounding habitats.
There are also proposals to make the site more of an attraction for visitors by providing access, education and recreation facilities. Particular care will be made to ensure that the character of the marsh will not be affected by the improvements.
The Environment Agency, Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and English Nature have teamed up to carry out the improvements on the marsh, which lies in the floodplain of the River Stour, between the Staffordshire and Worcester-shire Canal and Wilden Lane.
The agency is currently investigating the cause of the problem and is working on an action plan with Wyre Forest District Council, which will be released by the end of the year.
Project manager Davinder Gill said: "Wilden Marsh is Worcestershire's number one priority in our work towards meeting Government targets to improve important wildlife
sites. It is a special place for plants and wildlife and if nothing is done, it could be lost forever. We must act now to restore this valuable piece of our heritage for the benefit of future generations."
It is thought that the water table may have been affected b efore the late 1970s.
However, environmentalists have a lack of information on flood works before that date.
Agency staff are currently monitoring the water levels across the site to gauge accurately the distribution and circulation of water on and below the earth's surface.
They will then consider an improvement package that is technically viable, economically justified and environ-mentally acceptable, following consultation with the local community.
Wilden Marsh and Mead-ows has been identified as the most urgent priority by the Environmental Agency of the four SSSIs in the Herefordshire and Worcestershire area.
The Government wants 95 per cent of all nationally important wildlife sites up to favourable condition by 2010.