In November 2014 E.ON submitted a planning application for a 26 turbine wind farm at Loch Urr, near Moniaive, Dumfries & Galloway. BSG Ecology provided support to E.ON throughout the process, completing all baseline ornithological and wider ecological survey work, inputting to design and compiling chapters for the Environmental Statement.
BSG Ecology’s role in the project
Ornithological work was undertaken over several years, reflecting the size of the site and the potential complexity of bird issues. The scope of survey was based on Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) onshore wind farm guidance¹, consultation with SNH and RSPB Scotland, desk study and appraisal of the habitats present. Detailed surveys were completed for black grouse, breeding waders and raptors, and the flight lines of target species were mapped from vantage-points. An island within Loch Urr, adjacent to the site, also supported a large breeding colony of black-headed gulls (almost 800 nests were counted in 2011), and a bespoke study was completed on regularly used flight corridors and the timing of movements to supplement the more standard survey work.
Ecological work commenced with an Extended Phase 1 survey, during which SEPA’s SNIFFER guidance was applied in order to identify and classify potential Ground Water Dependent Terrestrial Ecosystems (GWDTEs) and other habitats of nature conservation importance. This informed preliminary (multi-disciplinary) constraints mapping.
As the layout started to emerge, National Vegetation Classification (NVC) work was completed of probable GWDTEs and European Priority Habitats such as blanket bog and wet heath. The site has considerable peat cover, but has been locally degraded by forestry and drainage for grazing, and further work to confirm GWDTEs (and mitigate effects) was undertaken by the project hydrologists.
In addition, a range of protected species work was undertaken, including surveys for bats (walked transects and automated detection), red squirrel, badger, otter and water vole.
Ornithological and Ecological Assessment
Based on the survey, desk study and consultation, the ornithological assessment identified the main receptors as red kite (from the re-introduced and rapidly growing population in the Loch Ken and Galloway Forest area), breeding waders (particularly curlew) and black-headed gulls.
Collision risk analysis did not suggest a high rate of predicted red kite collision at the site. Consideration was also given to current population trends and productivity, and to potential cumulative effects on kites when reaching the conclusion that the site was unlikely (alone or in combination with others) to pose a significant risk to the local population (a conclusion with which RSPB Scotland agreed in subsequent correspondence).
Design changes were made to avoid siting turbines on black-headed gull flight corridors, and considerable land management proposed to offset effects on waders and to increase the capacity of the site to support black grouse. As a result it was considered that residual ornithological effects would be minimal (not significant in terms of the EIA Regulations), and that local conservation gain would result for some species.
With regards to other ecological interests, it was possible to substantially mitigate effects on habitats, with the better quality areas of Annex 1 habitats avoided and effects on GWDTEs minimized through the design process. Stand-offs from watercourses and the loch (which was excluded from the final site boundary) were included to reduce the potential for effects on protected species found to be present, such as water vole and otter. The bat community was found to be typical of the region and habitat types, with common and soprano pipistrelles and a range of ‘low sensitivity’ (to wind farm development) species recorded. Effects on other species were considered unlikely or straightforward to mitigate through construction phase control measures.
Comments on the planning application from nature conservation consultees are awaited. The thorough engagement by consultees in the lead up to the planning submission enabled an open and transparent relationship and positive dialogue. A final decision on the application will be made by the department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and is awaited (August 2018).