7 Ecology and Nature Conservation
7.0.1 This chapter reports the findings of the assessment of predicted impacts on habitats and species associated with the Proposed Scheme corridor. The results of specialist surveys undertaken in 2007 are summarised in this chapter with more detail provided in Appendix G2 (flora, breeding birds, otters, water voles and red squirrels) and Appendix G3 (badgers). Appendix G3 remains confidential in accordance with the standard practiced approach of not revealing the location of known setts.
7.1 Scope of the Assessment
7.1.1 Consultations with SNH, Dumfries and Galloway Council (D&GC), the Scottish Executive (Environment and Rural Affairs Department) (SEERAD) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in addition to the Stage 1 and 2 assessments established that sensitive habitats associated with the Proposed Scheme corridor include woodland, grassland, wetland and water body and habitats on peat soils.
7.1.2 In their consultation response, SNH noted that the Proposed Scheme would largely cross areas of improved permanent pasture and one area of recently felled and re-stocked plantation. SNH further noted that the habitats involved are unlikely to hold specific natural heritage interest of particular significance but suggested that a survey of these habitats should be conducted to establish whether there are specific habitats and species of significance within the Proposed Scheme corridor.
7.1.3 SNH noted that there is anecdotal evidence suggesting the presence of badgers within the area and indicated that otters and water voles might be associated with the Pow Water and Glen Burn. Their presence was confirmed through biological records collected at the time. SNH recommended that an otter survey should be undertaken incorporating a search of all ditches and watercourses within 500 m of the Proposed Scheme for signs of otter activity and habitats that may be used for resting or shelter.
7.1.4 In light of the preliminary work and consultations it was concluded that the stage 3 assessment should include the following:
- a Phase 1 Habitat Survey and assessment;
- a badger survey and assessment;
- an otter survey and assessment;
- a bat survey and assessment; and
- a water vole survey and assessment.
7.2 Statutory and Planning Context
7.2.1 Planning guidelines, international commitments, legislation and planning policies relevant to the protection, conservation and enhancement of nature conservation interests associated with the Proposed Scheme corridor are outlined below. A more detailed explanation of these obligations and objectives is included in Appendix G1.
- Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (1992) (‘the Habitats Directive’).
- Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the Conservation of Wild Birds (‘the Wild Birds Directive).
- The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations (1994) (The Habitats Regulations).
- The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act (2004)
- The Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) (1981) (as amended).
- Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act (1991).
- The Protection of Badgers Act (Scottish Version) (1992).
- National Planning Policy Guidelines (NPPG) 14: Natural Heritage (1999) 11.
- Planning Advice Note 60 – Planning for Natural Heritage (PAN 60) (2000).
- Dumfries and Galloway Structure Plan (Dumfries and Galloway Council), (1999).
- Annandale and Eskdale Local Plan (Dumfries and Galloway Council) (2006).
Statutorily Protected Sites
7.2.2 Local Nature Reserves (LNRs); National Nature Reserves (NNRs); Ramsar sites; Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs); Special Areas of Conservation (SAC); and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) contain examples of some of the most important natural and semi-natural ecosystems in Great Britain and Europe and receive strict protection under both UK and European legislation.
7.2.3 Local Wildlife Sites receive protection through the policies contained within Dumfries and Galloway Structure Plan (Dumfries and Galloway Council, 1999) and the Annandale and Eskdale Local Plan (Dumfries and Galloway Council, 2006).
7.2.4 The WCA makes it an offence to plant or otherwise cause to grow in the wild, Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica and giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum.
7.2.5 Under European legislation, a number of species and their habitats, including great crested newt Triturus cristatus; bats; red squirrel Sciurus vulgaris; otter Lutra lutra; and badger Meles meles are strictly protected from damage, disturbance and destruction etc. Certain species such as some reptiles and birds receive partial protection under UK legislation, e.g. protection from killing/injuring only or protection at certain times of the year only. Other species such as water vole Arvicola terrestris, receive protection of their habitat only.
7.2.6 National Planning Policy in Scotland is set out in a series of Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) documents that identify the key priorities for the planning system. Prior to the publication of SPPs, national planning policy was set out in a series of National Planning Policy Guidelines (NPPGs). Existing NPPGs have continued relevance to decision making, until such time as they are replaced by a SPP. A series of Planning Advice Notes (PANs) provide supplementary advice on good practice.
7.2.7 Local planning policy is set out in the Dumfries and Galloway Structure Plan (Dumfries and Galloway Council, 1999) and the Adopted Annandale and Eskdale Local Plan (Dumfries and Galloway Council, 2006) both of which contain policies relating to ecology and nature conservation.
7.3 Assessment Methodology
Guidelines and Key Stages
7.3.1 The assessment has been based on the DMRB Volume 11 Section 3, Part 4. Reference has also been made to the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (2006) Guidelines for Ecological Impact Assessment in the United Kingdom (version 7 July 2006) - http://www.ieem.org.uk/ecia/indexl. The assessment has involved the following key stages:
- scoping and consultation;
- identification of the likely zone of influence of the Proposed Scheme;
- identification and evaluation of ecological resources and features likely to be affected (baseline environment);
- identification of the biophysical changes likely to affect valued ecological resources and features and an assessment of whether these biophysical changes are likely to give rise to a significant ecological impact;
- refinement of the project to incorporate ecological mitigation and enhancement measures to avoid, reduce or compensate for any significant adverse impacts; and
- assessment of the ecological impacts of the project, including any mitigation and enhancement measures and definition of the significance of any residual effects.
7.3.2 The basis for the scoping of issues is described in Section 7.1.
Identification of the Likely Zone of Influence
7.3.3 The likely zones of influence comprises:
- an immediate zone of influence within the proposed working area for the scheme; and
- a wider zone of influence extending to all areas/receptors that could be affected by the Proposed Scheme. These include potentially sensitive water-dependent habitats and associated species at varying distance from the immediate scheme corridor.
Establishment of the Baseline Environment
7.3.4 Establishment of the baseline environment has involved a combination of desk based review, consultation and site survey.
Desk Based Review
7.3.5 The desk based review involved reference to documents and reports prepared during the Stage 1 and 2 assessments undertaken during the earlier stages of the planning, design and assessment of the Proposed Scheme.
7.3.6 The following documents were reviewed:
A75 Trunk Road Hardgrove to Kinmount – Stage 2 Report (Mouchel Consulting, 2003a); and
A75 Hardgrove to Kinmount: Otter, Badger & Water Vole Survey Report (Mouchel Consulting, 2003b).
7.3.7 Information has been sought through correspondence with the following organisations.
- Dumfries and Galloway Badger Group.
- Dumfries and Galloway Bat Group.
- Dumfries and Galloway County Bird Recorder.
- Dumfries and Galloway Environmental Resources Centre (DGERC).
7.3.8 Consultation responses are provided in Appendix B and further data inclusions are contained within Appendix G.
7.3.9 An initial walkover survey was undertaken in June 2005 adopting a survey area 500 m either side of the Proposed Scheme alignment. An Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey was undertaken in December 2006 adopting a survey area concentrated on all accessible land within 30 m of the Proposed Scheme extent, although some areas beyond 30 m were also surveyed where accessible. This was updated at a more appropriate time of year for habitat surveys, in July 2007, covering all accessible land within 500 m of the alignment (see Appendix G2).
7.3.10 The purpose of the June 2005 survey was to identify the principal habitat types within the Proposed Scheme corridor and to provide an initial indication of their potential to support legally protected or otherwise notable species of flora/fauna including those priority species listed in the UK or Dumfries and Galloway Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) 12 .
7.3.11 The Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey identified and mapped the habitat types within the Proposed Scheme footprint and the immediate area using the standard Phase 1 Habitat Survey methodology (JNCC, 2003). Target notes were made to describe features of interest.
7.3.12 During the Phase 1 Habitat Survey in 2006, the habitats were assessed to determine their potential to support invertebrates based on the habitat types and their geographic location. Based on the findings of this assessment, a specialist invertebrate assessment was undertaken in July 2007 (see Appendix G5).
7.3.13 During the Phase 1 Habitat Survey the watercourses associated with the Proposed Scheme corridor were assessed to determine their potential to support notable fisheries based on marginal and aquatic habitat types, physical condition and their geographic location.
7.3.14 Specialist breeding bird surveys were undertaken during July 2007 (see Appendix G2) based on the methodology described in Bibby et al (2000). The surveys involved four survey visits, in suitable weather conditions just after dawn or before dusk covering the scheme area plus the surrounding land within approximately 100 m of the Proposed Scheme footprint. The results of the surveys were then subject to territory mapping analysis in accordance with the methodology described in Bibby et al 2000. Unfortunately, the survey visits could not be spread throughout the breeding season, as recommended in Bibby et al 2000; and it is therefore possible that some species, e.g. early-breeders, may have been under-recorded or over-looked during the surveys. Nonetheless, it is considered that the surveys provide a good indication of the ornithological value of the study area during the breeding season.
7.3.15 Specialist surveys for barn owl Tyto alba were undertaken based on the methodology described in Gilbert et al 1998. This involved searching potential nest/roost sites approximately 100 m of the Proposed Scheme footprint for signs of barn owl such as pellets, faeces or the birds themselves.
7.3.16 Specialist surveys for badgers within 500 m of the scheme were undertaken in 2003, 2006 and 2007 (see Appendix G3) in accordance with the standard methodology (Harris et al, 1989).
7.3.17 All buildings and trees within 30 m of the Proposed Scheme were subject to an initial assessment in terms of their potential to support bat roosts during the Phase 1 habitat Survey. The two types of feature were assessed as having a high, medium or low potential based on the factors described in Tables 7.1 and 7.2 respectively.
Table 7.1 - Level of bat roost potential in trees - based on Mitchell-Jones (2004)
- No visible holes or crevices;
- No dead branches;
- Flight lines to trunk highly obscured;
- Very little or no ivy on the trunk;
- No water bodies/watercourses within 400 m.
- Visible holes or crevices or small superficial holes beginning to form;
- Minor dead limbs but no obvious cavities/lifting bark/splits;
- Flight lines to trunk slightly obscured;
- Lifting bark on trunk;
- Trunks covered by ivy on semi-mature trees;
- 200m to 400m from a watercourse/water body.
- Cavities and crevices present;
- Species liable to form cavities, e.g. beech, ash, oak, willow;
- Major dead limbs present;
- Good flight lines to trunk;
- Heavily ridged and lifting bark;
- Trunks covered by ivy on mature trees;
- <400 m from a watercourse/water body.
Table 7.2 - Level of bat roost potential in buildings - based on Mitchell-Jones (2004)
- No access points;
- No trees or bushes adjacent to building;
- No habitat linkages to foraging areas;
- No waterbodies/watercourses within 400m.
- Visible holes or crevices or small superficial holes beginning to form;
- Potential bat access points but may be a bit too big or in a position unlikely to be used by bats;
- 200m to 400m from a watercourse/water body;
- Tall vegetation adjacent to building or good habitat linkages to foraging grounds.
- Signs of bats, e.g. droppings;
- Points of access that bats would use (not so large that birds would use);
- Tall vegetation adjacent to building and good habitat linkages to foraging grounds;
- Good flight lines to building;
- <400 m from a watercourse/water body;
- Roof exposed to direct sunlight.
7.3.18 Following the initial assessment, specialist dawn and dusk bat surveys were undertaken to confirm the presence of roost sites (see Appendix G2).
7.3.19 Specialist red squirrel surveys were undertaken at suitable habitat locations within approximately 250 m of the Proposed Scheme footprint during July 2007 (see Appendix G2).
7.3.20 Specialist surveys for water voles were undertaken at all potentially suitable watercourses and water bodies within 500 m of the Proposed Scheme footprint during the August and September 2003 surveys in accordance with Strachan (1998) and again during the July 2007 surveys in accordance with Strachan and Moorhouse (2006) (see Appendix G2). This involved searching the banks for signs of water vole activity such as burrows, latrines and areas of cropped grass.
7.3.21 Specialist searches for signs of otters were undertaken during 2003 and 2007 in accordance with Chanin (2003) (see Appendix G2). The suitability of habitats associated with watercourses to support otter holts13 was also evaluated during the 2007 surveys.
7.3.22 Impact significance and ecological value has been equally evaluated for the associated predicted impacts both prior to and post mitigation.
Ecological Significance and Evaluation
7.3.23 An ecologically significant impact is defined as an (negative or positive) impact on the integrity of a defined site or ecosystem and/or the conservation status of habitats or species within a given geographical area. The ecological significance of an impact is not dependent on the value of the feature in question; rather the value of the feature is used to determine the geographic scale at which the impact is significant. For example, an ecologically significant impact on a feature assessed as being of value at the national level is regarded as a significant impact at a national level (as defined by the adopted IEEM guidance).
7.3.24 Each feature has been assessed as being valuable, or potentially valuable, based on the following geographic criteria.
- International, e.g. Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) or Ramsar Sites.
- National (i.e. UK), e.g. Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
- Regional, e.g. habitats or species valuable at a regional level.
- County, e.g. sites valuable at a county (i.e. Dumfries and Galloway) level.
- District, e.g. habitats or species populations of value at the district (i.e. Annan and Eskdale) level.
- Local, e.g. habitats or species populations of value in a local (i.e. within ~5km of the scheme extent) context.
- Within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only (i.e. within the working area).
7.3.25 In accordance with IEEM (2006), the value of habitats has been measured against published selection criteria where available. Reference has also been made to UK and local Habitat Action Plans (HAPs) although, as the guidance notes, the presence of a habitat subject to a HAP reflects the fact that the habitat concerned is in a sub-optimal state and hence that conservation action is required. The HAP does not necessarily imply any specific level of value to the habitat type concerned. The local BAP for the area is the Dumfries and Galloway BAP14 .
7.3.26 As for habitats, in accordance with IEEM (2006), the evaluation of species populations makes use of relevant published criteria where available. Reference is also made to UK and local Species Action Plans (SAPs) although, as for HAPs, the fact that a species is subject to a SAP implies that the population is in a sub-optimal state and does not necessarily imply any specific level of value to the species concerned.
Significance of Impacts
7.3.27 Impacts are only assessed in detail for ecological receptors considered to be of value at the ‘local’ level or above, except where subject to some form of legal protection. In some instances, it is possible for a feature to be of less than local value in nature conservation terms yet subject to legal protection. Examples include certain common nesting birds (the nests of which are subject to legal protection) and in many parts of the UK, badgers, which are subject to protection primarily on animal welfare grounds.
7.3.28 When describing impacts, reference is made to the following:
- confidence in predictions (level of certainty that an impact will occur);
- magnitude, i.e. the size of an impact in quantitative terms where possible;
- extent, i.e. the area over which an impact may occur;
- duration, i.e. the time for which an impact is expected to last;
- reversibility, i.e. a permanent impact is one that is irreversible within a reasonable timescale or for which there is no reasonable chance of action being taken to reverse it; a temporary impact is one from which short-term recovery is possible; and
- timing and frequency, i.e. whether impacts occur during critical seasons or life-stages.
7.3.29 Confidence in predictions is based on a four point scale, as follows:
- certain/near certain, probability estimated at 95% chance or higher;
- probable, probability estimated above 50% but below 95%;
- unlikely, probability estimated above 5% but below 50%;
- extremely unlikely, probability estimated at less than 5%.
7.4 Baseline Conditions
7.4.1 Data derived from the desk–based review and consultations established that there are no statutorily designated sites within 1 km of the Proposed Scheme.
7.4.2 The nearest designated site is the Solway Firth, some 4.6 km south of the Proposed Scheme. It is internationally designated as a Ramsar Site, SPA and SAC, and nationally as a SSSI and NNR. Its core value relates to wintering wildfowl, wading birds and migrating birds. The site is also of value for its breeding birds, natterjack toads, invertebrates, geomorphology and vegetation.
7.4.3 There is one non-statutory nature conservation site within 1km of the Proposed Scheme; Kelhead Flow Local Wildlife Site which comprises an area of some 25 ha located approximately 0.5 km east of the Proposed Scheme. The site is described in the Scottish Wildlife Trust Site Survey (see Appendix G4) as a raised bog, most of which has been cut in the past and planted with a mixture of broad-leaved trees and conifers. The central area of the site is uncut, with good peat-land vegetation under a canopy of conifers.
7.4.4 In addition, Kelhead Moss Plantation has been identified by DGERC as a ‘Red Squirrel Priority Woodland’ (see Appendix G4). The plantation is located approximately 1.5 km east of the Proposed Scheme.
7.4.5 The various habitats identified during the field surveys are shown in Figure 7.1 and described below. Target notes are described in Appendix G2 and their locations are shown in Figure 7.1.
Broad-Leaved Semi-Natural Woodland
7.4.6 The woodland at the location described in target note 4 (Braemoss Wood) is dominated by semi-mature silver birch Betula pendula and downy birch Betula pubescens with alder Alnus glutinosa, sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus, holly Ilex aquifolium and willows Salix spp. There is evidence of supplementary planting with European larch Larix decidua and sitka spruce Picea sitchensis, which is present in some areas and a number of mature beech Fagus sylvatica along the woodland edge.
7.4.7 Additional species at Braemoss Wood include elder Sambucus nigra, rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum, common nettle Urtica dioica, soft rush Juncus effusus, bramble Rubus frutiicosus agg., bracken Pteridium aquilinum, bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, cock’s-foot Dactylis glomerata and rosebay willowherb Chamerion angustifolium. Some areas are marshy and are characterised by locally abundant climbing corydalis Ceratocaprios claviculata, frequent soft rush Juncus effusus and creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens. There are also occasional areas of developing bog communities with very locally frequent heather Calluna vulgaris, bog stitchwort Stellaria uliginosa, wild angelica Angelica sylvestris, marsh thistle Cirsium palustre and a very small patch of sphagnum moss Sphagnum sp. located amongst the woodland ground flora. The moisture is provided by the wet ditch running through woodland. Of note, is the presence of stand of Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica, which, at the time of the survey, covered an area approximately 40 m by 10 m in the location described by target note 6.
7.4.8 The broad-leaved woodland identified by target note 36 is dominated by immature silver birch and willows. Other woody species include ash, sycamore and wild cherry Prunus avium. The woodland appears to have been planted approximately 20 years ago on fairly waterlogged ground. The ground flora is reminiscent of a successional bog community with a typically acidic sward of herbs and grasses but with limited diversity due to the evident closing of the tree canopy. Typical species include tufted hair grass Deschampsia cespitosa, creeping soft grass Holcus mollis, tormentil Potentilla erecta, climbing corydalis, and occasional wood sorrel, violet Viola sp., marsh thistle Cirsium palustre, bog stitchwort Stellaria uliginosa, honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum, moss Hylocomium splendens and foxglove Digitalis purpurea.
7.4.9 The area of woodland identified by target note 11 is dominated by mature beech trees with scattered holly over a ground layer dominated by bracken and bluebell. The broad-leaved semi-natural woodland within the survey area matches the characteristics for the Dumfries and Galloway BAP priority habitat of native woodland.
7.4.10 Bluebell is identified as a Dumfries and Galloway BAP priority species.
Broad-Leaved Semi-Natural Plantation
7.4.11 Part of the garden of the derelict property known as Stenriesgate adjacent to the existing A75 (target note 26) is characterised by immature broad-leaved plantation woodland dominated by willows Salix spp.
7.4.12 The area described by target note 30 (Popin Moss) is characterised by immature coniferous plantation, dominated by Norway spruce Picea albies with some European larch approximately 3 m tall. Additional species include a ground layer of cock’s-foot, Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus, rosebay willowherb, and hardheads Centaurea nigra with occasional sitka spruce and some gorse Ulex europaeus at the periphery.
7.4.13 The plantation described by target note 32 (Kelhead Moss Plantation) is dominated by semi-mature Scot’s pine Pinus sylvestris typically around 12-15 m tall (indicating that this area may have been planted around 50 to 70 years ago). The plantation is characterised by a fairly closed canopy of Scot’s pine with occasional European larch and Norway spruce over a sparse under-storey including hawthorn, elder and beech. Ground flora is fairly limited to patches of acid preferring flora such as climbing corydalis, broad buckler fern Dryopteris dilatata, wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa and common woodland species such as herb robert Geranium robertianum, ground ivy Glechoma hederacea, bracken Pteridium aquilinum and red campion Silene dioica. It is identified by DGERC as Ancient Woodland15. Given this, and based on current survey information, it appears that, whilst this woodland may have pre-AD1860 origins, it is likely to have been significantly modified in the 20th century, e.g. through supplementary planting of non-native species. The coniferous plantation within the survey area matches the characteristics for the Dumfries and Galloway BAP priority habitat of planted coniferous woodland.
7.4.14 Popin Well Wood, to the south of the existing A75 (target note 14), is dominated by sycamore, European larch and Scot’s pine. There is some alder in the wettest area next to a minor stream that runs through the plantation. The oldest trees in Popin Well Wood appear to be around 50 years old. The under-storey is dominated by hazel Corylus avellana with some elder over a ground flora of bramble, bracken, wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella, opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, foxglove, marsh marigold Caltha palustris, climbing corydalis, enchanter’s nightshade Circaea lutetiana, common nettle and creeping buttercup.
7.4.15 Braehill Oak Wood, to the north of the A75 (target note 15), is of similar composition and structure but with a relatively greater frequency of Scot’s pine and sycamore. Several of the Scot’s pine are mature and appear to be around 70 to 100 years old. There are a relatively high number of wind-felled trees with some associated dead wood. A line of mature beech trees marks the western edge of the wood. There are a small number of immature ash trees. Shrub/ground layer species include rhododendron, bramble, bracken, campion Silene sp., violet, wood avens Geum urbanum and ground ivy Glechoma hederacea.
7.4.16 Braehill Oak Wood is also identified by DGERC as Ancient Woodland and as with Kelhead Moss Plantation it appears likely this area has been significantly modified in the 20th century through supplementary planting of non-native species; however it notionally holds its ‘ancient’ status.
7.4.17 There are several areas of scrub dispersed along the verges of the existing A75. Typical species include silver birch, hawthorn, gorse and willows.
Scattered Broad-Leaved Trees
7.4.18 Target notes 20, 24 and 25 mark the location of mature and semi-mature ash trees whilst target note 2 marks that of a mature copper beech Fagus sylvatica purpurea.
7.4.19 The majority of the fields associated with the Proposed Scheme corridor are characterised by intensively managed improved grassland. Typical species include perennial rye-grass Lolium perenne, red fescue Festuca rubra, creeping buttercup, curled dock Rumex crispus and ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata.
Species-Poor Semi-Improved Grassland
7.4.20 For most of its length, the verges of the existing A75 are characterised by species-poor semi-improved grassland. Typical species include false oat-grass Arrhenatherum elatius, cock’s-foot, Yorkshire fog, common couch Elytrigia repens, cleavers Galium aparine, common knapweed Centaurea nigra, common sorrel Rumex acetosa, cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris, creeping buttercup, creeping cinquefoil Potentilla reptans, creeping thistle Cirsium arvense, great willowherb Epilobium hirsutum, hairy bitter-cress Cardamine hirsuta, hogweed, lesser burdock Arctium minus, rosebay willowherb, upright hedge-parsley Torilis japonica, wild angelica Angelica sylvestris and yarrow Achillea millefolium.
7.4.21 Small patches of marshy grassland adjacent to Glen Burn (target notes 27 and 29) appear to be of slightly greater botanical diversity than other areas of pasture. Additional species here include meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, sneezewort Achillea ptarmica, meadow buttercup Ranunculus acris, common bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus, soft rush, creeping thistle, sorrel and Yorkshire fog.
7.4.22 The survey identified one field of set-aside arable. Typical species include cock’s-foot, Yorkshire fog, perennial rye-grass, curled dock, broad-leaved dock Rumex obtusifolius, ribwort plantain, common nettle and knotgrass Polygonum aviculare.
7.4.23 Hedgerows are typically species-poor trimmed features dominated by hawthorn. Other species are typically sparsely distributed and include occasional ash, beech, broom, dog-rose Rosa canina, gorse and sycamore. One hedgerow (target note 33) is heavily dominated by beech with occasional hawthorn. There are few hedgerow trees.
7.4.24 Four minor watercourses flow beneath the existing section of the A75: Hardgrove Burn (grid ref: NY115711(16) & target note 12); a tributary of Hardgrove Burn (grid ref: NY118709 & target note 13); a tributary of Glen Burn (grid ref: NY127703 & target note 31); and Glen Burn (grid ref: NY130700 & target note 34).
7.4.25 At the time of the December 2006 survey, immediately following a period of heavy rain, Hardgrove Burn had a flow-width of approximately 1 m. It flows along the eastern side of a trimmed hedgerow at this point where it remains largely un-shaded. No true aquatic vegetation was noted other than a small amount of water-cress Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum.
7.4.26 A tributary of Hardgrove Burn arises within Popin Well Wood and, where it crosses the existing A75, is a minor feature with an approximate flow-width of 30 cm as recorded in December 2006. At this point the watercourse is quite heavily shaded by the adjacent woodland. No aquatic vegetation was noted.
7.4.27 A tributary of Glen Burn crosses beneath the existing A75. At the time of the December 2006 survey, water in the channel was flowing approximately 1 m-wide. The margins of the watercourse comprise improved grassland. Aquatic vegetation includes soft rush and water-cress.
7.4.28 Glen Burn follows a southerly course through coniferous plantation before crossing beneath the existing A75 and continuing across open pasture. During the December 2006 survey the flow-width was recorded as being approximately 1.5 m. Though largely un-shaded outside the coniferous plantation, there was no evidence of notable aquatic vegetation.
7.4.29 The watercourses within the survey area match the characteristics for the Dumfries and Galloway BAP priority habitat of rivers and streams.
7.4.30 Given their intensively managed nature, the grassland, arable land and hedgerows, which dominate the majority of the survey area, are considered to be of relatively low value for invertebrates. Consequently, specialist invertebrate surveys in 2007 concentrated on the areas of woodland within the study area. As described in Appendix G5, a small number of uncommon species were recorded including Bythinus burrelli, Aleochara verna, Cryptolestes pusillus and Sicus ferrugineus. However, none of these are identified as protected or nationally or locally scarce and the relative lack of records is likely to be a result of under-recording rather than genuine rarity.
7.4.31 Given the composition, dimensions and characteristics of the minor watercourses crossed by the Proposed Scheme, along with their culverting, and the unqualified risk of diffuse pollutants from surrounding farmland impacting on the local water quality due to the large expanse of agricultural activity locally (see Paragraph 12.4.4) the potential for notable fisheries contained therein is considered negligible.
7.4.32 A full list of bird species recorded in the vicinity is included at Appendix G2. A total of 45 bird species were recorded during the surveys in 2007; of which thirty-nine are believed to have bred within the study area in 2007. The surveys revealed that six species listed on the Red List of Birds Conservation Concern (Gregory et al 2002) breed within the study area. These are house sparrow Passer domesticus (numerous nests in farmyards, other buildings and gardens), yellowhammer Emberiza citronella (at least 10 pairs), starling Sturnus vulgaris (numerous nests in farmyards, other buildings and gardens), song thrush Turdus philomelos (one pair), bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula (two pairs) and reed bunting Emberiza schoeniclus (one pair). All six species are also identified as UK BAP priority species17 and reed bunting is a local BAP priority species in Dumfries and Galloway. In addition, nine species listed on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern were found to be breeding within the study area.
7.4.33 The only ground nesting species recorded was Eurasian oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus. The surveys did not suggest that this species breeds within the survey area, although it is possible that breeding was overlooked due to the late timing of the surveys. However, the habitat within the survey area is assessed as sub-optimal for this species, e.g. due to high stocking densities in pasture.
7.4.34 During the site visit in December 2006, a number of avian casualties were found along the existing A75 including buzzard Buteo buteo, rook Corvus frugilegus, pheasant Phasianus colchicus and a dead barn owl (target note 18; grid ref: NY111713). Approximately six swallow Hirundo rustica nests were found in the outbuildings at Stenriesgate (grid ref: NY233705).
7.4.35 A range of birds are likely to nest in trees, hedgerows, scrub, woodland and buildings within the survey area.
7.4.36 No barn owl nests or roost sites have been identified. However, a barn owl was observed in May 2007 hunting over fields immediately north of the existing A75 opposite Stenriesgate approximately 100 m from the Proposed Scheme. This is in addition to the dead barn owl found in December 2006 on the verge of the existing A75 opposite Braemoss woods; likely to have been killed in a collision with a vehicle.
7.4.37 Barn owl receives special protection from disturbance during the breeding season. It is also a priority species in the Dumfries and Galloway BAP. Swallow is also identified as a priority species in the Dumfries and Galloway BAP.
7.4.38 The results of specialist surveys for badgers undertaken in 2003, 2006 and 2007 are presented in the confidential Appendix G3. There are no badger setts within 30 m of the proposed scheme although setts are known from within 500 m of the Proposed Scheme.
7.4.39 As described in Appendix G2, no bat roosts have been identified within the study area. Based on the habitats present and their geographic location, certain features such as woodland, watercourses and hedgerows could potentially be of moderate value to bats whereas open fields are likely to be of relatively low value. The specialist bat surveys in 2007 revealed relatively low levels of bat activity within the study area; the only species recorded being low numbers of common pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus. Common pipistrelle is listed as priority species in the Dumfries and Galloway BAP and in the UK BAP.
7.4.40 Specialist surveys in 2003 and 2007 revealed no evidence of water voles within the study area.
7.4.41 SNH noted that otters may be present in the area. Evidence of otters was found along three of the four watercourses associated with the Proposed Scheme corridor during the 2003 survey; the exception being the tributary of Glen Burn. The specialist survey in 2007 did not identify any signs of otter, although it is likely that this species is still present in the area. No evidence of holts was found during the surveys and no potentially suitable habitat for holts was identified during the 2006 and 2007 surveys. Otter is listed as a priority species in the UK BAP and in the Dumfries and Galloway BAP.
7.4.42 DGERC provided one red squirrel record within 1 km of the Proposed Scheme development footprint relating to an active individual recorded in April 2006. The individual was located next to the A75 adjacent to Kelhead Moss Plantation, approximately 1 km south east of the Proposed Scheme. This individual is likely to be part of a population known to be present within part of Kelhead Moss Plantation identified as a ‘Red Squirrel Priority Woodland’. This area is contiguous with the coniferous plantation known as Kelhead Moss Plantation (target note 32), which is considered to provide potentially suitable habitat for red squirrels.
7.4.43 Specialist surveys in 2007 did not identify any evidence of red squirrels18. Red squirrel is listed as priority species in the UK BAP and in the Dumfries and Galloway BAP.
7.4.44 During the course of the survey in December 2006, two brown hares Lepus europaeus were observed in fields adjacent to the A75 and two brown hare corpses were found on the A75 within the survey area. Brown hare is a UK BAP priority species.
7.4.45 None of the waterbodies within 1 km of the Proposed Scheme are considered to provide potentially suitable breeding habitat for great crested newts. The only large standing waterbodies are located 1 km to the east. These comprise two ornamental ponds that are likely to support fish and waterfowl. In addition, there are two low-lying areas of pasture, characterised by standing water at the time of survey in December 2006; however they were shallow and temporary in nature and lacked aquatic vegetation. Collectively, these features are considered extremely unlikely to support great crested newts.
7.4.46 DGERC provided records of several common plants, mammals, invertebrates and birds from the study area.
7.4.47 Given the habitats present and their geographic location, the survey area is not considered likely to support reptiles or other protected species.
7.5 Nature Conservation Evaluation
7.5.1 This section evaluates the nature conservation importance of the habitats and species potentially present within the survey area in terms of their importance at the IEEM derived geographic levels described in Paragraph 7.3.24. Habitats are assessed in terms of their intrinsic value only and the evaluation of habitats should be read in conjunction with the evaluation of fauna that may be present within these habitats. Unless otherwise stated, confidence levels are ‘certain/near certain’.
Broad-Leaved Semi-Natural Woodland
7.5.2 Given the species present, the majority of this habitat within the study area is assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only. The greater species diversity in parts of Braemoss Wood increases the value of this area to local value.
Broad-Leaved Semi-Natural Plantation
7.5.3 Given its limited extent and limited species diversity, this habitat is assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.4 Given its ancient origin and the potential for enhancement, Kelhead Moss Plantation is assessed as being of value at the local level. The coniferous plantation elsewhere within the survey area is assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.5 Given its ancient origin, the species present, the presence of dead wood and the potential for enhancement; the mixed plantation at Popin Well Wood and Braehill Oak Wood is assessed as being of value at the local level.
7.5.6 Given the relatively low species diversity and limited extent, the scrub habitat is assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
Scattered Broad-Leaved Trees
7.5.7 Given the relative abundance of scattered trees in the wider area and the species present within the survey area, the scattered broad-leaved trees within the survey area are assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.8 Given its relatively low species diversity and the abundance of similar habitats in the wider area; the improved and marshy grassland habitats within the survey area are assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.9 Given its low botanical diversity and highly artificial nature, this habitat is assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.10 Given their species-poor nature and low structural diversity, the hedgerows are assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.11 Despite their relatively small size, low botanical and low structural diversity, the watercourses within the survey area are likely to be of some value in terms of habitat connectivity in the wider area and are therefore assessed as potentially being of value at the local level.
7.5.12 Given the species assemblages recorded, the invertebrate fauna within the study area is assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.13 Given the nature of the watercourses, the survey area is considered to be of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.14 Given the presence of breeding populations of six UK BAP priority bird species, the study area is assessed as being of value at the local level. Given the absence of barn owl nesting/roosting sites, the study area is assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only for this species.
7.5.15 Given the presence of a strong population of badgers in the wider area; the presence of badgers within 500 m of the Proposed Scheme is assessed as being of value within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.16 Given the absence of roosts, the relatively low levels of bat activity recorded and the nature of the habitats present, the scheme area is assessed as being of value for bats within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.17 Due to its small size in terms of foraging habitat the Proposed Scheme survey area is assessed as being of value for otters within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only. However, given their confirmed presence within the scheme area and the strong population of otters in Dumfries and Galloway, the watercourses within the scheme area are likely to form an integral part of the habitat for the wider otter population which is assessed as being of value at the regional level, although this does not mean that the scheme area itself is necessarily of value at this level.
7.5.18 Given the known population of red squirrels at Kelhead Moss Plantation and elsewhere within Dumfries and Galloway, this woodland is assessed as being of value at the regional level for the species. Given the absence of dreys within the scheme area, the scheme area is assessed as being of value for red squirrels within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.5.19 Given their relative abundance in the wider area, the scheme area is considered to be of value for brown hare within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme only.
7.6 Potential Impacts
7.6.1 Potential impacts on ecological and nature-conservation receptors during the construction phase are described in Chapter 15. It should be noted that the actual loss of habitats and associated faunal impacts, which will first occur during the construction period but will be felt throughout the life of the scheme, is covered under the section on impacts below.
7.6.2 This section characterises and predicts the potential impacts on ecological features in the absence of any mitigation measures during the operation phase of the Proposed Scheme. Unless otherwise stated, confidence levels are ‘certain/near certain’.
Impacts on Designated Nature Conservation Sites
7.6.3 Given the nature of the Proposed Scheme and the distance between the Proposed Scheme and the nearest statutorily designated site; no significant impacts on any statutorily protected sites are anticipated.
7.6.4 Similarly, given the distance between the Proposed Scheme and the nearest non-statutory site; no significant impacts on any non-statutory sites are anticipated.
Increased Pollution-Laden Runoff into Watercourses
7.6.5 Operational activity could potentially lead to increased pollution-laden runoff into watercourses, resulting in a significant impact at the local level (unlikely). This is confirmed through the assessment conclusions discussed in Section 12.5.
Permanent Habitat Loss
7.6.6 The Proposed Scheme would result in the permanent loss of four habitat types considered to be at least of local value. These would comprise:
- 1.4 ha of broad-leaved semi-natural woodland at Braemoss Wood;
- 0.7 ha of coniferous plantation at Kelhead Moss Plantation;
- 0.1 ha of mixed plantation at Popin Well Wood; and
- less than 0.1 ha of open watercourse habitat.
7.6.7 The certain loss of broad-leaved semi-natural woodland; coniferous plantation and mixed plantation would be significant at the local level.
7.6.8 Given the small extent of the combined total of open watercourse habitat lost where culverts would route the existing watercourses beneath the new section of road, the impact would not be significant at the local level.
7.6.9 Given the presence of the existing A75, the Proposed Scheme would not result in significant fragmentation of existing habitats; simply marginal habitat loss.
Impact on Birds
7.6.10 Given the relatively small amount of direct habitat loss associated with the scheme, the impact of habitat loss on breeding birds, including six UK BAP priority species and four local BAP priority species, is assessed as not significant at the local level. The scheme is assessed as not likely to result in an increased rate of collision with vehicles.
Impact on Badgers
7.6.11 The Proposed Scheme could lead to an increased rate of mortality of badgers through collision with vehicles which could result in a significant impact within the immediate zone of influence of the scheme due to a breach of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 (Scottish Version).
Impact on Otters
7.6.12 Given the large home ranges of otters, the potential impact of direct habitat loss on otters within the survey area is assessed as not significant at the local or regional level.
7.6.13 However, the operation of the Proposed Scheme could result in the increased mortality of otters through collision with vehicles; particularly if otters are encouraged to cross the carriageway rather than use bridges/culverts/underpasses. The scheme could also result in habitat fragmentation for otters. Together, such impacts could potentially lead to a reduction in the carrying capacity of the wider area. The potential impact of increased mortality and habitat fragmentation for otters is assessed as not significant at the district or regional level but potentially significant at the local level (probable).
Impact on Red Squirrels
7.6.14 Given the position of the Proposed Scheme in relation to Kelhead Moss Plantation and other areas of potentially suitable habitat, the impact associated with habitat fragmentation is assessed as not significant at the regional level.
7.7.1 This section describes mitigation measures to avoid or reduce impacts on features of nature conservation interest.
7.7.2 The planting strategy for the Proposed Scheme includes a mix of planting and habitat creation proposals with combined objectives of landscape and ecological mitigation (see Chapter 8). The proposals also serve, in part, to enhance existing habitat diversity within the Proposed Scheme corridor.
7.7.3 Implementation of the proposals described within the landscape section would result in a net addition of approximately 0.005 ha of mixed woodland, 1 ha of dense scrub, 4020 linear metres of roadside hedgerow within the Proposed Scheme. In addition, approximately 3,200 m of newly established roadside verge would be seeded with a native species-rich grassland mix of local provenance if possible.
Protection of Species
7.7.4 Should essential maintenance or other works require encroachment into potential bird nesting sites (e.g. hedgerows or scrub) during the operational phase of the project, the favoured mitigation would involve programming of the works outside of the main bird nesting season (March to August inclusive) to ensure legal compliance. Should the nature or urgency of the works preclude this approach, the works would be preceded by a check by a suitably qualified ecologist to ensure that no active nests would be affected. Should active nests be found, works in the immediate vicinity of the nest would be postponed until the young birds have fledged.
7.7.5 In order to minimise collisions between barn owls and vehicles, new broad-leaved hedgerows will be planted along the verges of the Proposed Scheme wherever possible and as close to the carriageway as possible. The hedgerows will be planted with native species of local provenance where possible and will be maintained at least 2-3 m tall through cutting in accordance with Ramsden (undated). The hedgerows will encourage barn owls to fly higher whilst crossing the road thereby reducing the likelihood of collisions.
Badgers and Otters
7.7.6 As described in the confidential Appendix G3, mammal underpasses will be installed at five locations along the Proposed Scheme in accordance with the recommendations contained in Volume 10, Section 4, Parts 2 and 4 of the DMRB. In total five kilometres of Badger-proof fencing will be installed 250 m either side of the underpasses on both sides of the carriageway. Within 100 m of four of the underpasses (i.e. the four associated with watercourses), the fencing will also include modifications to make it otter-proof.
7.8 Residual Effects
7.8.1 The following residual effects have been identified. Unless otherwise stated, confidence levels are ‘certain/near certain’.
Increased Pollution-Laden Runoff into Watercourses
7.8.2 With the proposed drainage measures for control of surface water run-off and interception of traffic related pollutants carried in surface water run-off, it is predicted there would be no significant residual effects related to pollution-laden run-off and discharge to local watercourses.
Permanent Habitat Loss
7.8.3 Given the creation of hedgerows and species-rich grassland, the residual impact associated with the permanent loss of broad-leaved semi-natural woodland, coniferous plantation and mixed plantation is assessed as not significant at the local level.
Impact on Birds
7.8.4 Given standard mitigation measures to avoid impacts on birds’ nests whilst in use, the potential residual impact of damage/destruction of birds’ nests is assessed as not significant in legal terms.
Impact on Badgers
7.8.5 Given the installation of five underpasses and 5000 m of badger-proof fencing, the residual impact associated with mortality of badgers through collision with vehicles is assessed as not significant in legal terms.
Impact on Otters
7.8.6 Given the installation of four underpasses at watercourses and 1600 m of otter-proof fencing, the residual impact associated with mortality of otters through collision with vehicles and habitat fragmentation is assessed as not significant at the local level or in legal terms.