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3 Corridor 1 — Inverness to Wick / Thurso and Northern Isles

3.1 Introduction

Corridor 1 links the city of Inverness with the towns of Wick and Thurso, and beyond to the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland).This corridor contains one of the two strategic nodes, namely Inverness.

The corridor is characterised as having a low population density except for the main centre of population in and around Inverness and has a predominantly rural character. The main urban centres within this corridor and their populations include Inverness at 40,900, Wick at 7,000, Thurso at 7,500, Kirkwall at 6,300 and Lerwick at 6,60041.

The strategic road network comprises the A9 trunk road from Inverness to Thurso and the port of Scrabster, and the A99 trunk road between the A9 at Latheron and Wick. There is a rail service connecting Inverness to Wick and Thurso with a number of intermediate railway stations. Also playing a key role in the corridor are a number of airports and ports that provide lifeline services for a number of remote locations. There are two mainland airports within the corridor, one at Wick (minor) and the other at Inverness (major). There are also a number of minor airports and airstrips in the Orkney and Shetland Islands. In addition to Scrabster, ports serving this corridor include the major Orkney Island ports and Cromarty Firth at Invergordon.

This corridor lies within two Regional Transport Partnership areas; The Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS) and Shetland Transport Partnership (ZetTrans).

The corridor’s baseline environmental information is presented in a series of attached maps. These illustrate information relating to biodiversity, landscape and cultural heritage.

3.2 Biodiversity, Fauna and Flora

The Strath Beg section of the A9 corridor, between Latheron and Thurso lies across a large area with international nature conservation designations that include Ramsar sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Area of Conservation (SACs). There are further internationally designated sites of nature conservation along the east coast between Inverness and Wick and along the Moray, Cromarty, and Dornoch Firths. These designations are close to the A9. A high proportion of biological SSSIs are identified, mainly to the north of Dornoch (Corridor 1 Maps A to C ‘Biodiversity).

Salmonid rivers in the corridor include the rivers Alness, Beauly, Conon, Carron (North East), Nairn, Oykel and Shin42.

3.2.1 Internationally Designated Sites

A number of internationally designated sites lie alongside the A9 with many further sites scattered throughout the corridor and its buffer zone. Table A3.3.1 below illustrates the Natura 2000 sites which are situated within this corridor.

Table A3.3.1: Natura 2000 Sites and their Qualifying Features


Qualifying Features


Cromarty Firth

Extensive intertidal flats with eelgrass bed; supports 30,200 waterfowl in winter

Inner Moray Firth

Extensive intertidal flats with eelgrass bed, saltmarsh, and a sand and shingle spit. Supports 25, 740 waterfowl in winter

East Sanday Coast

Breeding species, Purple sandpiper and Ruddy turnstone

Caithness & Sutherland Peatlands

Largest global blanket bog; three nationally rare mosses, eight nationally scarce vascular plants and four nationally scarce mosses; insect fauna includes several nationally scarce species and one nationally rare species; breeding species include Red-throated diver, Black-throated diver, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian teal, Black scoter, Hen harrier, Golden eagle, Merlin, Golden plover, Curlew, Common greenshank, Wood sandpiper, Arctic skua, Short-eared owl, Otter. Supports internationally important breeding population of Dunlin.

Caithness Lochs

Winter populations of Whooper swan, Greenland white-fronted goose, Greylag goose

Loch Eye

Species with peak counts in Spring / Autumn – Whooper swan and species with peak counts in winter – Greylag goose

Donarch Firth and Loch Fleet

Largest estuarine alder Alnus glutinosa wood in Britain; outstanding coastal dunes; supports nationally-scarce aquatic plants and British Red Data Book invertebrates; supports 28,700 waterfowl in winter; Spring / Autumn – Eurasian Wigeon; Winter – Greylag goose and Bar-tailed godwit

Special Protection Areas

Inner Moray Firth

Common tern, Osprey, Bar-tailed godwit, Greylag goose, Red-breasted merganser, Redshank, Scaup. Supports over 20,000 waterfowl.

Cromarty Firth

Common tern, Osprey, Bar-tailed godwit, Whooper swan, Greylag goose. Supports over 20,000 waterfowl


Breeding site for Gannet, Great Skua, and Guillemot. Supports around 100,000 individual seabirds.


Breeding species - Arctic Tern, Red-necked Phalarope, Dunlin, Great Skua, and Whimbrel. Supports 22,000 individual seabirds.


Breeding species - Arctic Tern, Storm petrel. Supports around 35,000 birds

Sumburgh Head

Breeding species - Arctic Tern. Supports around 35,000 waterfowl including Fulmar, Kittiwake and Guillemot

Lochs of Spiggie and Brow

Over-wintering site for Whooper swan

Fair Isle

Breeding species - Arctic Tern, Fair Isle Wren, and Guillemot. Supports 180,000 individual seabirds during the breeding season.


East Sanday Coast

Breeding species - Purple sandpiper, Bar-tailed godwit

Calf of Eday

Supports around 30,000 waterfowl including Cormorant, Guillemot, Fulmar


Breeding species - Arctic Tern, Storm petrel

Orkney Mainland Moors

Breeding species – Hen harrier, Red-throated diver, Short-eared Owl.


Breeding species - Arctic Tern. Supports around 30,000 waterfowl including Arctic skua, Guillemot, Fulmar


Breeding species –Red-throated Diver, Peregrine. Supports 120,000 individual seabirds during the breeding season


Breeding species – Barnacle goose

North Caithness Cliffs

Breeding species – Peregrine. Migratory species – Guillemot.

Caithness Lochs

Over-wintering species - Greenland White-fronted Goose, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose

Caithness & Sutherland Peatlands

Breeding species – Black-throated Diver, Golden eagle, Golden plover, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Red-throated Diver, Short-eared Owl, Wood Sandpiper, Common Scoter, Dunlin, Greenshank, Wigeon

Dornoch Firth & Loch Fleet

Breeding species – Osprey. Over-wintering species - Bar – tailed godwit, Greylag goose, Widgeon. Supports internationally important assemblage of 35,202 waterfowl

Morangie Forest

Breeding species – Capercaillie

Ben Wyvis

Breeding species – Dotterel

Loch Eye

Breeding species – Whooper Swan and Icelandic greylag goose

Loch Ashie

Breeding species – Slavonian Grebe

Strath Carnaig and Strath Fleet Moors

Breeding species – Hen Harrier

Otterswick and Graveland

Breeding species – Red-throated Diver

East Caithness Cliffs

Assemblage of breeding birds, including Cormorant, Fulmar, Greater black-backed Gull, Guillemot, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Peregrine, Puffin, and Razorbill.


Breeding species - Capercaillie

Lairg and Strathbrora Lochs

Breeding species – Black-throated Diver

Loch Flemington

Breeding species – Slavonian Grebe

Special Areas of Conservation

Moray Firth

Annex I habitat – Sandbanks slightly covered by sea water all of the time. Annex II species – Bottlenose dolphin

Loch Ussie

Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters with vegetation of the Littorelletea uniflorae and/or of the Isoëto-Nanojuncetea.

Moniack Gorge

Annex II species – Green shield-moss 

Ben Wyvis

Annex 1 habitat – Alpine and boreal heaths. European Dry Heath occurs below. Site has siliceous alpine and boreal grasslands, blanket bogs (priority habitat), extensive areas high-altitude bog supporting cloudberry, alpine bearberry and dwarf birch. Hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities of plains and of the montane to alpine levels, oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters with vegetation of the Littorelletea uniflorae and/or of the Isoëto-Nanojuncetea, Siliceous scree of the montane to snow levels and Siliceous rocky slopes with chasmophytic vegetation

River Evelix

Annex II Species - Freshwater pearl mussel

Conon Islands

Annex I habitats – Alluvial forests, alder woodland on floodplains

Monadh Mor

Transition mires and quaking bogs and Bog woodland (priority habitat)

Amat Woods

Caledonian forest

Dam Wood

Juniperus communis formations on heaths or calcareous grasslands and Alkaline Fens.

Loch Achnacloich

Natural eutrophic lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition-type vegetation

Pitmaduthy Moss

Bog woodland

Dornoch Firth & Morrich More

Annex I habitats –large and complex estuary. Mudflats and sandflats not covered by seawater at low tide, Salicornia and other annuals colonising mud and sand. Atlantic sea meadows, sand dunes including; Embryonic shifting dunes, Shifting dunes along the shoreline with Ammophila arenaria (`white dunes`), Fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation (`grey dunes`), Decalcified fixed dunes with Empetrum nigrum  Atlantic decalcified fixed dunes (Calluno-Ulicetea) Humid dune slacks Coastal dunes with Juniperus spp.  Sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater at low tide, Reefs.

Annex II species – Otter, Common Seal

River Oykel

Annex II Species - Freshwater pearl mussel and Atlantic salmon

Mound Alderwoods

Alluvial forests

River Thurso

Annex II Species - Atlantic salmon

Berriedale & Langwell Waters

Annex II Species - Atlantic salmon

Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands

Habitats – Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters with vegetation of the Littorelletea uniflorae and/or of Isoëto-Nanojuncetea, Natural dystrophic lakes and ponds and Blanket bogs. Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix, Transition mires and quaking bogs and Depressions on peat substrates of the Rhynchosporion.

Annex II species; Otter and Marsh saxifrage.

Broubster Leans

Transition mires and quaking bogs

East Caithness Cliffs

Vegetated sea cliffs of the Atlantic and Baltic coasts

Loch of Wester

Natural eutrophic lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition-type vegetation

Loch Watten

Natural eutrophic lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition-type vegetation


Vegetated sea cliffs of the Atlantic and Baltic coasts, Natural dystrophic lakes and ponds, Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix, Alpine and Boreal heaths, blanket bog

Stromness Heaths & Coast

Vegetated sea cliffs of the Atlantic and Baltic coasts and European dry heaths

Loch of Stenness

Coastal lagoons

Fair Isle

Vegetated sea cliffs of the Atlantic and Baltic coasts


Annex II species; Common seal

Yell Sound Coast

Annex II species; Otter and Common seal

Sullom Voe

Large shallow inlets and bays


Extensive sub tidal bedrock reefs, dense forests of kelp, sandbanks partially covered by seawater all the time and mud and sand flats not covered by sea water at low tide.

Annex II species: Common seal

Carn nan Tri-Tighearnan

Contains the Annex I habitat Blanket Bog

Faray and Holm of Faray

Annex II species Grey Seal

Ledmore Wood

Annex I habitat  Old sessile oak woods with Ilex and Blechnum in the British Isles

River Naver

Annex II species Freshwater Pearl Mussell and Atlantic Salmon.


There are no Biogenetic or Biosphere Reserves in the corridor.


3.2.2 Nationally Designated Sites

There are five National Nature Reserves (NNRs) in the corridor comprising Noss (east of Bressay in Shetland), Ben Wyvis (near Bonar Bridge) Loch Fleet (near Dornoch), Nigg and Updale Bays, and Blar nam Faoileag.

There are also 135 biological SSSIs and eight mixed (i.e. biological and geological) SSSIs located within, or crossing the boundary of, the corridor.

3.2.3 Internationally Important Species

Within the corridor there are several internationally important species as identified in Annex II of the EC Habitats Directive 1992 and Annex I of the EC Birds Directive 1979.

Annex II Species

Table A3.3.2 illustrates the Annex II species and their location within the corridor.

Table A3.3.2: Location of Annex II Species in Corridor 1






Atlantic salmon

Widely distributed in Shetland, western Orkney and along the east coast of the corridor

River lamprey

West of the Cromarty Firth

Brook lamprey

South of the Cromarty Firth

Sea lamprey

West of the Cromarty Firth


Great-crested newt

Found at two locations close to Inverness


Bottlenose Dolphin

Cromarty Firth and off Sumburgh Head (Shetland)

Harbour porpoise

Widely distributed in all coastal areas of the corridor


Widespread distribution across corridor

Grey seal

Breeding sites are located on three sites in Shetland, 4-5 sites in Orkney and in two locations to the north of Helmsdale

Common seal

Found in two locations in Shetland, three in Orkney and one to the north of Helmsdale

Lower Plant Species

Green-shield moss

Located near Beauly Firth, Inverness – one of only two sites in the UK

Marsh saxifrage

One site to the west of Wick


Geyer’s whorl snail

Cromarty Firth

Round-mouthed whorl snail

Cromarty Firth

Freshwater pearl mussel

Helmsdale and to the south of the Dornoch Firth including River Evelix and River Oykel

(survey was undertaken in 1970 and sites have depleted since this date)


Annex I Bird Species


Table A3.3.3 highlights the location of the Annex 1 bird species (as identified in EC Birds Directive, 1979) within the corridor.

Table A3 3.3: Location of Annex I Bird Species in Corridor 1





Divers and Grebes


Red-throated diver (breeding)

Breeding grounds in the north of Shetland, north mainland and Orkney (4 within Corridor 1)

Stable populations in these areas

Slavonian grebe (breeding and non breeding)

One site for breeding located west of Inverness

Population declined from 1990 to 1998


Storm petrel (breeding)

Particular concentrations are found in the waters around Shetland and Orkney, however, outside of the breeding season the birds are mostly at sea in the South Atlantic


Gulls, Terns and Skuas


Common tern

Breeding site in Cromarty Firth (2.4% of national population)

Shift northwards with populations in Scotland rising

Arctic tern

Numerous locations in Orkney and Shetland

Since 1985, breeding pairs have fallen significantly in Shetland and Orkney attributed to lack of their principal food and possibly over-fishing by humans

Birds of Prey and Owls

Hen harrier (breeding and non breeding)

Stronghold at various sites in Orkney

Population loss in Orkney attributed to habitat loss and destruction. Elsewhere in the UK, numbers have risen

Golden eagle

Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands support low density populations

Stabilised population numbers in recent years


Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet; most important feeding area for Ospreys in Scotland

Intensive protection has lead to continued increases in the Scottish numbers of Osprey


Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands

No recent change in numbers


East Caithness cliffs and Hoy

Species remain below pre-1940 numbers in these areas despite UK numbers at highest known level

Short-eared owl

Orkney Mainland Moors


Other Bird Species

Fair Isle wren

Fair Isle, Shetland

General decline, however, recently population numbers have stabilised


Whooper swan

Cromarty Firth, south Shetland and near Wick

Recent trends unknown but decline was highlighted in 1995 for UK populations

Greenland white-fronted goose

Caithness lochs

Total UK population numbers have risen since 1995

Greenland barnacle goose





West of Cromarty Firth

Little change in numbers since 1950s

Bar-tailed godwit

Orkney, Cromarty Firth and Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet

Broadly stable populations since 1970s

Wood sandpiper (breeding)

Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands

The main reasons for declining

populations are thought to be loss of breeding habitat from wetland drainage and peat extraction


3.2.4 Future Baseline


There are no new SAC designations proposed in the corridor. No information is available on any future Ramsar sites, NNRs or SSSIs in the area covered by the corridor.

Noise Sensitive Ecological Sites

Ecological noise sensitive receptors in the corridor include many species located in the Natura 2000 sites. Sites utilised as roosting grounds for Annex I bird species are considered particularly vulnerable. These sites are the Inner Moray Firth, Cromarty Firth, East Sanday Coast, Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands, Noss, Fetlar, Mousa, Sumburgh Head, Fait Isle, Auskerry, Orkney Mainland Moors, Rousay, Hoy, Switha, North Caithness Cliffs, Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet. Morangie Forest, Ben Wyvis, Loch Eye, Loch Ashie and Strath Carnaig and Strath Fleet Moors.

Species affected include the Osprey, Golden eagle, Whooper swan, Peregrine, Storm petrel, Arctic tern, Slavonian grebe, Hen harrier, Short-eared owl, Greenland white-fronted goose, barnacle goose, Bar-tailed godwit, Dotterel, Wood sandpiper, Red-throated diver, Eurasian widgeon, Eurasian teal, Black scoter, Merlin, Golden plover, Curlew, Common greenshank, Arctic skua, Gannet, Great skua, Guillemot, Red-necked phalarope, Whimbrel, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Fair Isle wren, Purple sandpiper, Cormorant, Black-throated diver, Capercaillie, and Icelandic greylag goose.

Otters are found at Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands, Dornoch Firth and Morich More, and Yell Sound Coast.

3.3 Population

The character of this corridor can be generally described as predominantly remote rural with small dispersed settlements. However Inverness, the main centre of population and a strategic node is located at the southern part of the corridor. The corridor includes the coastal communities at the far north east of Scotland, and also the Orkney and Shetland Isles. The estimated total population of this corridor is 176,300

3.3.1 Demography

The corridor contains the city of Inverness; small towns such as Alness, Invergordon, Wick and Thurso; and the islands of Orkney and Shetland. Table A3.3.4 below lists the populations of key settlements and their percentage of the overall Scottish population. Inverness contains around one per cent of the total Scottish population and is the main population centre in this corridor.

Table A3.3.4: Population of Towns and Cities43

City or Town


% Scottish Population
































Each Council area within the corridor has experienced population growth over the past three years, as shown (Table A3.3.5).


Table A3.3.5 Population Growth / Decline44

Council Area

Population 2004

Population 2007











Life Expectancy


Life expectancy at birth in Scotland stands at 74.2 years for males and 79.2 years for females according to the General Register Office for Scotland (2006). Life expectancy at birth in Scotland by administrative area for 2003-2005 is shown in Table A3.3.6.

Table A3.3.6 Life Expectancy at Birth per Council Area45

Council Area












As illustrated by the above data, all areas in this corridor have a higher than average life expectancy at birth.


The area has strong national and international appeal as a visitor destination with its diversity of activities, locations and attractions based on the national and built environment. Tourism is therefore of great importance to the area.

The key employment sectors in Inverness are public administration, education and health followed by tourism, construction, banking, finance and insurance46.

Within Shetland and Orkney Islands, the key employment sectors are public services, transport, primary industries (e.g. agricultural) and construction activities.

Table A3.3.7 shows the employment rate for the main centres of population in the corridor. As highlighted by the data, Lerwick and Kirkwall have the highest employment rates, followed by Inverness.

Table A3.3.7 Employment Rates for Main Centres of Population

City or Town

Employment Rate (%)

Percentage of National Employment Figures

























National unemployment levels for those aged 16 to 74 years were around 148,100 at the time of the 2001 census, which equates to around four per cent of that age group. Unemployment rates for the main centres of population within the corridor and the associated percentages of the national unemployment figure are shown in Table A3.3.8. The table illustrates that the highest rates of unemployment can be found in Invergordon where unemployment is 2.2 per cent over the Scottish average. Fortrose, Lerwick, Thurso and Kirkwall all have lower than average unemployment.

Table A3 3.8 Unemployment Rates for the Main Centres of Population

City or Town

Unemployment Rate (%)

Percentage of National Unemployment Figures

























Accessibility and Connectivity

The A9 provides access for long distance journeys as well as direct access for several communities that it runs through, including Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale. Other important elements of the road network include the A99 trunk road which links Wick to the A9; and A882 (non-trunk) between Wick and Thurso. Access by air and sea is provided by two mainland airports: Inverness (major airport) and Wick (minor airport). There are also a number of minor airports and airstrips in the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Ports serving this corridor include the major Orkney Island ports and Cromarty Firth at Invergordon. A rail line runs from Inverness to Georgemas junction where it splits off to serve Wick and Thurso.

Access to key services by both car and public transport is generally better in the more populated parts of the corridor, particularly close to Inverness. However, Corridor 1 generally consists of small, remote, and dispersed populations. The critical mass of population necessary to support large scale service provision (including public transport), cost-effectively, is therefore not present.

Consequently, the general population of the corridor is more dependent on cars to access key services, compared to in more urbanised areas of Scotland. The limited public transport provision and the distance of Inverness from either Wick or Thurso restrict effective commuting and business interaction on this corridor.

According to the 2001 Census, the percentage of people that travel to work by car in each Council area is 63 per cent (Highland Council), 60 per cent (Orkney Islands Council) and 74 per cent (Shetland Islands Council). The Scottish average is 64 per cent, and so whilst Highland and the Orkney Islands Councils are slightly below average, 10 per cent more people travel to work by car in Shetland. However, the average number of people who use public transport in each area is fewer than the national average of 15 per cent (7 per cent in Highland, two per cent in Orkney and four per cent in Shetland). Potential reasons for higher dependency on the car may be explained by the long distances that people have to travel to work, and also particularly in the island Council areas the lack of public services available. At present, public transport is not suitable for long journeys, especially to work, as it is not frequent enough and is too costly. The ageing population also requires good access to services which are not presently available.

3.3.2 Future Baseline

Population projections for the Highlands, and Orkney and Shetland Island Councils for the years 2012, 2017 and 2002 are listed below in Table A3.3.9. The forecast shows an increase in the Highlands but a decrease for both Orkney and Shetland Islands.

Table A3.3.9 Projected Population Change by Council (2004-based)













Orkney Islands




Shetland Islands







There is no data available.

Accessibility and Connectivity

There is no data available.

3.4 Noise

The A9/A99 (Inverness to Wick) has been identified as a key contributor of road vehicle noise emissions, with the A99 generating up to 70 dB LA10,18hr and the A9 generating up to 65 dB LA10,18hr at a reference of 10m.

The Scottish Executive has produced maps of key noise sources in Scotland. Using information from the maps, it has been possible to gain information about the key noise sources around Inverness. No other information is available for the rest of the corridor. According to the maps, the main noise source is the main trunk roads within a 10 km radius of Inverness. Noise levels up to 80 dB LA10,18hr are observed from such trunk roads.

Noise Sensitive Receptors

Sensitive noise receptors are, in general, those areas of human habitation or substantial use where the intrusion of noise has the potential to adversely affect the occupancy, use or enjoyment of the environment. The number of residential properties within 50m of roads producing reference noise levels at 10m from the road in excess of 60 dB (A) has been calculated. In 2005, 3,100 properties within the corridor were found to be within the 50m zone.

The number of properties within 50 metres of a rail line in Corridor 1 is 1,200.

3.4.1 Future Baseline

Table A3.3.10 illustrates the projected number of residential properties from the Transport Model for Scotland (TMfS) Highland Model which will be within 50m of roads producing reference noise levels at 10m from the road in excess of 60 dB (A) from 2005 to 2022. As seen by the data, the number of properties within this band is set to decrease by 200 properties over this period which is a decline of around six per cent.

Table A3.3.10: Residential Properties within 50m of Roads producing reference noise levels in excess of 60 dB (A)


Residential Properties within 50m

Roads > 60 dB (A) - 2005


Roads > 60 dB (A) - 2022


3.5 Human Health

This section considers the impacts of local air quality and road accidents on human health.

3.5.1 Local Health Quality

Air quality within this corridor is generally good, resulting in little concern to human health. Inverness is the main centre of population in the area, and has levels of PM10 and NO2 that are approaching, but not exceeding WHO Guidelines. It therefore does not have any designated AQMAs and is not considered to present significant risks to human health. For more information, please refer to the Air section.

3.5.2 Accident Statistics

The annual average accident numbers between 2002 and 2006 was 727, of which 157 were serious and a further 26 fatal. Accident numbers by Council area are shown in Table A3.3.11. This demonstrates that the council areas in this corridor contribute around five per cent of Scotland’s road accidents.

Table A3.3.111: Road Accidents by Council Area and Severity47

Council Area


Fatal & Serious

All Severities

2002-2006 Average (Provisional)









Orkney Islands




Shetland Islands









The accident numbers on the A9 in this corridor is in line with the national average for non built-up A class trunk roads in Scotland. The fatal accident rate on the route is slightly higher (0.9 per 100MVkm) than the corresponding national rate (0.76 per 100MVkm)48.


Based on accident data from January 2001 to December 2005, the A99 from Latheron to Wick has an accident rate approximately four times that of the national rate in the same period. Accident clusters exist at two locations49.

3.5.3 Future Baseline

There are no proposed AQMAs within this corridor. Modelling shows that levels of NO2 in the centre of Inverness are predicted to increase up to 2022, which may result in them exceeding WHO guideline levels (refer to Air section) and creating more health problems for residents.

3.6 Soils and Geology

3.6.1 Designated Sites

There are 32 geological SSSIs and 18 mixed (i.e. biological and geological) SSSIs located within or crossing the boundary of the corridor, many of which are situated along the coastline.

3.6.2 Geology and Soil Conditions


The predominant rock within the corridor as far as Orkney is, Devonian age sedimentary rock formed by river beds and flood plains. The Shetland Islands have a mixed geology with mainly, Precambrian (Dalradian) metamorphic rock formed deep in the earth’s crust. Small areas in Caithness and Sutherland have Precambrian (Moine) metamorphic rock formed deep in the earth’s crust and Cambrian to Devonian (Caledonian) aged igneous rock formed deep underneath volcanoes.

Soils and Peat Deposits

The mainland area of the corridor comprises humus-iron podzols from Tain to Muir of Ord and stretching east to the coast. Peaty gleys are present around the Kinbrace area and to Lairg. A large area of blanket peat spans from Lybster and northwest to Melvich. To the top east of the corridor, saline gleys are present.

Significant deposits of peat, laid down in post glacial times are found across Orkney, the largest areas being those covering the eastern hills of the West Mainland and the greater part of central Hoy, with large deposits located in Rousay and Eday. Most peat is of the blanket type which ranges from less than 0.5m to l.0m in thickness. Basin bogs are of relatively small extent. Approximately 40 per cent of Orkney and northeast Caithness area are covered by poorly drained non calcareous gleys; 20 per cent of the area is peat, 15 per cent brown forest soils and 12 per cent are peaty gleys. Peat dominates most areas of the Shetland Isles.

Agricultural Land Classifications

In the corridor, the majority of land consists of Class 6 (land capable of use only as rough grazings) intermixed with small areas of Class 5 (land capable of use as improved grassland). From Thurso to Lybster and to the west of Orkney, there is a section of Class 4 (land capable of producing a narrow range of crops).

3.6.3 Future Baseline

There is no information on any future designations in this corridor.

3.7 Water

This section considers the water environment in terms of water resources, water quality and flooding.

The main water resources found in the corridor include the rivers Nairn, Thurso, Beauly and Wick and the estuaries Beauly Firth, Cromarty Firth and Dornoch Firth. The Caledonian Canal is also situated within the corridor.

3.7.1 Water Quality

The main waterbodies in this corridor are listed below (Table A3.3.12) with their associated SEPA water classification grading.

Table A3.3.12: Water Quality of the Main Rivers

Water Feature

SEPA Classification


Beauly Firth



Cromarty Firth



Dornoch Firth



River Nairn



Caledonian Canal



River Thurso



River Beauly



Wick River



Water quality of main rivers is mainly good or excellent, with only the Wick River being Grade B. A number of smaller water bodies have Grade C quality water including Gillock Burn, Fendham Burn, Johnstones Ditch, Black Burn and an unnamed tributary of the River Wick, in the Wick urban area.

Salmonid rivers in the corridor include the rivers Alness, Beauly, Conon, Carron (North East), Nairn, Oykel and Shin.

There are a number of water bodies with SAC status: Moray Firth, Dornoch Firth and Loch of Wester and Sanday. A further two water bodies have SPA status: the Inner Moray Firth and Cromarty Firth.

3.7.2 Major Aquifers and Groundwater Vulnerability

Major bedrock aquifers with high productivity are identified surrounding Inverness. Bedrock aquifers with moderate productivity are located to the north of Inverness; at Black Isle and Easter Ross and in the south of Orkney and Shetland50.

The vulnerability of groundwater is mixed; the least vulnerable areas are in the North East of the corridor.

3.7.3 Flooding

Flooding of transport infrastructure could potentially be an issue around the Moray, Dornoch and Cromarty Firths. According to SEPA Indicative Flooding Maps, areas with a 1:200 or greater chance of flooding include the area around Inverness Airport and various sections of the A9 from Inverness to Thurso, including near the Moray Firth crossing, Alness, Tain, Golspie and Thurso. Hempriggs Ho on the A99 is at risk of flooding, as is the A882 at Janetstown, Haster and Watten.

On the rail network, the Inverness to Thurso/Wick lines are at risk of flooding at several sections including Thurso, Fearn Station, Alness, Dingwall, Beauly, Inchmore and Inverness.

3.7.4 Future Baseline F

Water Quality Improvements

There may be improvements to the quality of water resources in the corridor, in line with the Water Framework Directive target for all waterbodies, to reach grade B by 2015. This is particularly likely for those watercourses currently graded C.

3.8 Air

3.8.1 Local Air Quality Management

There are no AQMAs present in the corridor.

Table A3.3.13 illustrates the 2005 levels of several of the main pollutants that are monitored at the various monitoring stations located in the corridor.

Table A3.3.13: Annual Mean Levels of Monitored Pollutants


Monitoring Station

Annual Mean NO2 Concn (ug/m3)

Annual Mean PM10 (ug/m3)



Inverness, Union Street



Inverness, Academy Street



Inverness, Queensgate




The corridor, in general, is at no risk of exceeding the national air quality objectives and so, for most of the pollutants, there is no requirement by the councils to assess levels.



Inverness, the major urban area within the corridor, is monitored by the Highlands Council for levels of PM10 and NO2, and is the sole area in the corridor which has automated air quality monitoring stations. NO2 monitoring is carried out on a monthly basis at a number of locations in Inverness. The highest 2004 bias adjusted annual mean was recorded at Queensgate in Inverness and was 40.6 µg/m3. It is however suggested that two other sites in the same area, with annual means of 37.2 µg/m3 and 28.1 µg/m3, are more representative of NO2 levels in Queensgate. The estimated annual means for NO2 in 2005 are below the air quality objective of 40 µg/m3, and therefore no sites tested exceeded the annual mean objective for NO2. However increases in traffic volumes in Inverness city centre could raise levels to this threshold.

PM10 levels are measured at Telford Street in Inverness. In 2004, an average annual mean of 15 µg/m3 was recorded with one exceedence of the air quality objective of 50 µg/m3. In 2005, The Highlands Council Local Air Quality Report (2005) states that levels of PM10 in Inverness were exceeded twice, but on average levels were at 16.7µg/m3, which is lower than the standard set of 18 µg/m3.


For Shetland, assessments determined that there was no risk of exceeding national air quality objectives for NO2 and PM10 and so there is no requirement to produce a detailed assessment of these pollutants. Nitrogen dioxide levels are not measured regularly but monitoring is undertaken periodically at various locations in Shetland. These are conducted using passive diffusion tubes exposed for periods of one month on either two or three occasions per year and so the results are not comparable with the National Air Quality Standard objectives which require an annual or daily mean51.


In Orkney, nitrogen dioxide is monitored at six locations. In 2006, measurements were recorded for six months of the year. It was found that Kirkwall and Stromness had the highest levels at 36 ug/m3 and 13 ug/m3 respectively, both in July. The annual mean level has not been calculated as this will fall well bellow the objective and is therefore irrelevant. The Air Quality Report 2006 concludes that NO2 levels are not likely to exceed the air quality objectives52.

3.8.2 Nitrogen Dioxide and PM10 Emissions

Data obtained from ENEVAL (2005) states that the NO2 emissions from road vehicle transport in the corridor is low (0 – 286 ug/m3).

Data from 2001 Rail Emission Model was used to determine the total oxides of nitrogen (NOx) rail emissions for the corridor as approximately 36 tonnes/year which amounts to around 4.2 per cent of the total rail NOX emissions for all corridors and urban centres.

In this corridor, around 1.4 tonnes of NO2 and 0.04 tonnes of PM10 are emitted per million person km travelled per year.

3.8.3 Future Baseline

There are no AQMAs proposed at present for the corridor.

Projections for 2022 road based NO2 emissions for this corridor indicates generally low levels of NO2 from 0 to 286 ug/m3. From the TMfS Highland Model NO2 levels in the centre of Inverness are forecast to increase to moderate (287 – 572 ug/m3) by 2022.

Future changes to rail based NO2 emissions for this corridor are not possible to predict at present.

3.9 Climatic Factors

3.9.1 CO2e Emissions (Contribution to Climate Change)

The total CO2e emissions from road vehicle transport for the corridor, based on ENEVAL data (2005), is approximately 271,700 tonnes per year.

CO2e emissions from rail in the corridor total approximately 500 tonnes per year.

3.9.2 Future Baseline

Future CO2e emission data is only available for CO2e derived from road transport vehicles. From the TMfS Highland Model, total road CO2e emissions from road vehicle transport for the corridor are forecast to show a slight increase to 297,400 tonnes per year in 2022.

3.10 Material Assets

3.10.1 Report Infrastructure

The main road network within this corridor comprises the A9 (between Inverness and Thurso); A99 serving Wick; and A882 (non-trunk) between Wick and Thurso. There is a rail network between Inverness and Thurso/Wick, and mainland airports can be found at Inverness and Wick.

Due to limited rail access, the road network within this corridor provides essential connections for the population of this part of the country, as well as providing access to the regional centre of Inverness. The road network plays a key role in the tourism industry.

The Orkney Islands have ports at Scrabster and Invergordon, and several inter-island ferry services. The main airport is at Kirkwall, providing links to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness on the mainland, as well as Sumburgh in the Shetlands.

The Shetland Islands have an airport at Sumburgh, which provides connections to Kirkwall, Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with summer flights to London Stansted and the Faroes. There is a ferry connection from Lerwick to Aberdeen.

Key constraints and congestion points in the corridor include:

  • Congestion on the A9 approach to Longman Roundabout;
  • Restricted road layout including hairpin bends at Berriedale Braes on the A9;
  • Lack of available train paths at the southern end of rail route; and
  • Running speeds on the rail route are restricted by:
  • Track quality in some places;
  • Loop entry / exit speeds;
  • Signalling system (time required for token exchange and route setting); and
  • Speed restrictions for level crossings.

3.10.2 Aggregates

There are 12 quarries within this corridor, with details provided in Table A3.3.14. Materials resourced include hard rock, aggregate, asphalt; dry stone, concrete sands; and sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks.

Table A3.3.14: Quarries in Corridor 1





Crushed rock



Crushed rock and Asphalt


Spitall Mains










Granite rock, Asphalt

Contin, Ross-Shire


Sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rock







Finstown, Orkney


Chalk, slate and stone

Birsay, Orkney



Unist, Shetland



Scalloway, Shetland


No information on recycled aggregate usage has been identified.


3.10.3 Future Baseline

Road Network

There is one programmed scheme along the length of the A9 in Corridor 1 - Phase 2 of the Helmsdale to Ord of Caithness improvement scheme. This scheme is intended to improve the alignment of the A9 to the north of Helmsdale and reduce the potential for accidents by removing the need for large vehicles to use the opposite side of the road when turning corners. The improvement will also provide overtaking opportunities through the inclusion of a climbing lane.

Rail Network

Short term aspirations include the reduction of journey times and the improvement of frequencies with the aim of improving the connectivity between the region and Inverness. The medium term aspiration is to renew signalling and provide a cost effective rural signalling system.

3.11 Cultural Heritage

This section addresses cultural heritage features, comprising World Heritage Sites, Scheduled Monuments, Grade ‘A’ Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas, and Historic and Designed Landscapes.

3.11.1 Designated Sites

World Heritage Sites

The monuments of Orkney, dating back to 3000-2000 BC, reflect the cultural achievements of the Neolithic peoples of northern Europe. There is one World Heritage Site, on Orkney, within the corridor. The area of the West Mainland surrounding the Ring O’Brodgar was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1999. The designation not only includes the area's major sites - monuments such as Maeshowe, the Ring o' Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness - but also the less well-known sites in the area. The Watch Stone, the massive monolith that stands sentinel by the Brig o' Brodgar is one such inclusion, as is the Barnhouse Stone and the Barnhouse Settlement. The World Heritage Site designation protects the multitude of unexcavated sites that are dotted across the area.

Scheduled Monuments

There are many Scheduled Monuments (SMs) throughout the corridor and these tend to be scattered in nature, illustrated on Corridor 1 Map A to C ‘Cultural Heritage’. There is a concentration around Sumburgh Head in the Shetland Islands and around South Nesting Bay. These range from pre-historic sites to forts and World War II stations and in total there are 353 SMs throughout the whole of the Shetlands Islands, of which 215 are located in Corridor 153.

Orkney is especially known for its Neolithic monuments that consist of a large chambered tomb (Maes Howe), two ceremonial stone circles (the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar) and a settlement (Skara Brae), together with a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites54. There are 300 SMs located in the Orkney section of the corridor55.

The Highland region has 852 Scheduled Monuments with several located in Corridor 1. There are concentrations along the coast, especially from Helmsdale to Wick and further sites along main roads. Of particular note are the concentrations along the A897 from Helmsdale to Kinbrace and the A836 from Bonar Bridge to Larg.

Historic Gardens and Designed Landscapes (HGDLs)

There are 25 historic gardens and designed landscapes within the corridor that are listed on Historic Scotland’s Inventory of Historic Gardens and Designed Landscapes, 2006.


In the Highland area of the corridor the HGDLs include; Culloden House, Leys Castle, Aldourie Castle, Dochfour, Tomnahurich Cemetery, Beaufort Castle, Brahan, The Spa Gardens, Castle Head, Rosehaugh, The Fairy Glen, Cromarty House, Tarbet House, Balnegown House, House of the Geanies, Skibo Castle, Dunrobin Castle, Langwell Lodge, Ardross Castle, Berriedale, Dunbeath Castle and Castle of May (Barrogill Castle).


There are two HGDLs in Shetland; Gardie House and Lunna House.


Two HGDLs are located in the Orkney Islands and these include Melsetter House, Hoy and Skiall House, Mainland Orkney.

3.11.2 Conservation Areas and Listed Buildings

Conservation Areas are designated as places of special architectural or historic interest or areas which deserve to receive special protection.

There are 24 Conservation Areas in the corridor.


There are several Conservation Areas located in the Highland region of the corridor, some of which are classified as ‘outstanding’ by Historic Scotland.

Conservation Areas include; Inverness (riverside), Inverness (crown), Inverness (Clachnaharry), Lybster, Fortrose, Dingwall, Dornoch, Thurso, Wick (Pulteneytown), Tain, Rosemarkie, Culloden (battlefield), Culloden (house policies), Cromarty, Avoch, Ardersier Beauly (village square) and Balfour village.


In Shetland there are three Conservation Areas including two in Lerwick (Lerwick New Town and Lerwick Lanes) and one in Scalloway.


There are four Conservation Areas in Orkney namely Kirkwall, Stromness, St Margaret’s Hope and Balfour, Shapinsay. Kirkwall Conservation Area is an "Outstanding" example of a Norse derived medieval street layout.

‘A’ listed Buildings

There are 107 ‘A’ listed buildings located in the corridor, illustrated on Corridor 1 Map A to C ‘Cultural Heritage’. These are scattered throughout the corridor with over 80 located on the mainland and a concentration around Inverness. There are 17 ‘A’ Listed buildings located in the Orkney Islands and these are situated in the towns and villages of the islands (Orkney Islands Council, 2006). In the Shetland Islands, there are ten ‘A' Listed buildings throughout the various centres of population.

3.11.3 Future Baseline

The Flow Country (Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands) was submitted in 1999 onto the tentative list for WHS designation. The peat bogs are possibly the largest single area of blanket bog in the world and together with the associated moorlands and open water they are of international importance for conservation, both as a habitat in their own right and also because they support a diverse range of rare and unusual breeding birds56.

According to the Caithness Local Plan (2002), there are proposals for a Conservation Area to be designated at Keiss harbour. Extensions of Lybster Conservation Area to cover the harbour and Wick Conservation Area to cover Lower Pulteneytown are also proposed.

Inverness Local Plan (2006) recommends that the city’s core be designated as an outstanding Conservation Area to preserve and enhance the character and appearance of the city.

No information is available for any future ‘A’ Listed buildings or historic gardens and designated landscapes in this corridor.

3.12 Landscape

3.12.1 Designations

National Scenic Areas (NSAs)

NSAs are nationally important areas of outstanding beauty, representing some of Scotland's grandest landscapes. The purpose of their designation is to preserve and enhance their character or appearance.

There are four NSAs in the corridor including the Dornoch Firth (90,200 ha), Glen Strathfarrar (3,800 ha), Hoy and West Mainland (14,800 ha) and Shetland (11,600 ha).

Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLVs)

Information obtained from the council areas in the corridor indicates that there are four AGLVs, all located in the Highland region. These AGLVs include Loch Fleet; Loch Migdale – Near Tain; Loch Brora – Between Inverness and Wick and Ben Wvysis – North of Dingwall.

3.12.2 Landscape Character Assessment

The corridor contains the following landscape character areas as defined using the SNH (2006) Landscape Character Assessment. Landscape character is illustrated on Corridor 1 Map A to C ‘LCA’.

Flat or Rolling, Smooth or Sweeping, Extensive, High Moorlands of the Highlands and Islands – stretches throughout most of Shetland mainland. Also in Orkney there are extensive areas within the mainland.

Peatland Landscapes of Highlands and Islands – Within Shetland there are several areas including the south mainland coastal moorland and Yell peatland. Several large sections of peatland landscape are also found throughout the Caithness region of the corridor.

Farmland and Estates of Highlands and Islands – Tingwall and Weisdale in Shetlands. Also, Shapinsay, majority of Stronsay and Sanday with parts of the southern mainland in Orkney. Stretch of land from Thurso to Wick where land is capable of producing a narrow range of crops.

Highlands and Islands Crofting landscapes – Cuckron, Wester Quarff in Shetlands

Moorland Transitional Landscapes of the Highlands and Islands Towards the centre of mainland Orkney.

Highland and Island Glens Located to the west of the Orkney mainland, north of Stromness.

Low, Flat and / or Sandy Coastal Landscapes of the Highlands and Islands – Surrounds much of the mainland of Orkney.

High, Massive, Rolling, Rounded Mountains of the Highlands and Islands – Several sections of land spanning from around Dunbeath to Dingwall, extending eastwards to the boundary of the corridor.

Low Coastal Farmlands – This landscape character type is found between the Dornoch Firth and the Moray Firth where there is a greater land capability for agriculture.

Highland Straths – Several areas spanning from the coast around Helmsdale down to Bonar Bridge.

3.12.3 Future Baseline

No future designations have been identified for this corridor.

Publication Date: 
Wed 10/Dec/2008
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