The Sandstell Point area of Spittal, near Berwick upon Tweed, is a large brownfield site that has a long history of industrial use and fishing-related industry. The site, which has been unoccupied for many years, was identified as a prime site for the regeneration of the Spittal area. Whilst considered to be of strategic importance, its location adjacent to the River Tweed Estuary Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast SAC presented considerable challenges.
BSG Ecology’s role in the project
BSG Ecology was commissioned to carry out an ecological impact assessment of the proposed development, which included new residential properties adjacent to the Northumberland shore and River Tweed estuary. This involved an initial appraisal of the site and the scoping of all necessary ecological survey work.
Whilst the site itself was considered to be of low ecological importance, the appraisal led to the conclusion that the main issue was likely to be the potential disturbance of birds within the adjacent estuary and along the adjacent shore. This assessment was reflected in the early responses of Natural England, RSPB and the Northumberland County Council Ecologist, who all requested the completion of detailed baseline bird surveys to inform the impact assessment.
We completed all of the required ecological baseline surveys, which included vantage point bird surveys and recreation impact surveys throughout the winter period. We then went on to evaluate the potential impacts of the development, and to prepare a robust and realistic mitigation strategy.
Whilst the baseline ornithology surveys confirmed that the estuary is important for birds, they also revealed that the adjacent shore was not as important. As a result, our assessment focussed on the identification of measures to mitigate impacts on birds, particularly those using the estuary.
The process of designing mitigation and compensation measures was complicated by the fact that sea level rise and coastal erosion are serious issues along some parts of the Northumberland coast. It was, therefore, important to ensure that the proposed development did not result in ‘coastal squeeze’ and that the birds continue to be provided with somewhere to feed and rest.
Working with the appointed planning consultants and architects on the client team, we were able to recommend a series of design modifications, the purpose of which was to minimise impacts on birds. This included careful planning of pedestrian access points to the estuary and shore, the provision of wildlife advisory signs and interpretation boards, and the provision of new recreational areas within the site.
All identified ecological and ornithological impacts were addressed through appropriate levels of mitigation and compensation. This contributed to the submission of a successful planning application and planning permission was secured.