SPR received pre-application advice from The Highland Council, which helped to define the baseline and understand the nature of the Site and surrounding area. This advice has been used to inform the Site layout and scope of the Environmental Impact Assessment.
Establishing a detailed ecological record of the Site enables us to develop the design in a manner that avoids or minimises adverse effects on sensitive habitats and protected species.
- Undertaken a series of desk-based studies and consultations with organisations including SNH, RSPB and Local Fisheries Boards to identify existing records of species and habitats;
- Undertaken baseline ecological surveys on site for protected species and habitats;
- Undertaken baseline ornithological surveys (including breeding and wintering bird and flight activity surveys) in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
The Site primarily consists of commercially managed forestry but supports some areas of sensitive bog and heathland habitats located within the Phillips Mains Mire Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Area of Conservation (SAC), designated for its important moorland habitat and otter interests is also located to the southeast of the Site. Surveys undertaken have found evidence of protected species including water vole, bats and otter, with the habitats present within the Site also suitable for a number of other protected species including red squirrel and pine marten.
There are three international designated areas nearby which will require consideration (along with their component SSSIs where applicable) in our ornithology assessments: Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site (c 1 km from the application boundary); Caithness Lochs SPA and Ramsar site (Loch of Mey and Loch Heilan c 1.5 km and 2 km respectively); and North Caithness Cliffs SPA (3.5 km at its nearest point).
Two years of bird surveys have been completed and survey results indicate that there are no scarce birds of conservation concern breeding or roosting within the survey buffers of the Site.
What we will do…
- We will complete our remaining ecological surveys and identify any sensitive species and habitats that require changes to the proposed scheme design.
- As some flights by SPA species, including wintering geese and swans, passed within the survey buffers, a full assessment of potential effects on these species and the integrity of the designated areas will be completed.
Protecting Species and Habitat
SPR will seek to mitigate impacts on ecology in a variety of ways by:
- Avoiding construction during the bird breeding season where possible, or where not possible undertaking surveys to identify and protect any nesting birds;
- Avoiding watercourses and areas of sensitive blanket bog habitats identified during the Phase 1/NVC vegetation surveys;
- Adopting safe working buffers where protected species are found;
- Adopting pollution control measures to prevent silt or dusts entering watercourses;
- Designing any new or upgraded watercourse crossings to maintain safe passage of fish.
Above: Bog pools in the Philip Mains Mire SSSI ND 30903 70784
Any potential adverse effects for any species will be mitigated to meet legislative requirements and good practice, with species-specific mitigation plans created where required.
SPR will also identify opportunities for ecological enhancement, either through onsite habitat management or through consultation with conservation organisations to support existing biodiversity projects.
Above: SPR’s inhouse ecology team conducting conservation fieldwork
Our understanding of the ground conditions and surface water network has informed the Site design. This minimises the risk of groundwater and surface water being adversely affected. Our technical specialists work closely with one another to ensure that the potential effects of the proposed Development on hydrology and related habitats and species are considered holistically. This is particularly important for Groundwater Dependent Terrestrial Ecosystems, for example.
Assessed watercourses on the Site and avoided them as far as possible in the design process, investigated peat depths across the Site, identified the location of private water supplies near the Site and the potential for flooding from Site watercourses.
Our technical teams have identified the key hydrological components in and around the proposed Development. This allows us to understand how rainfall and surface water run off infiltrate into soils and peat and discharge into watercourses and drainage channels.
This information will also allow us to assess whether any private water supplies are potentially at risk of being affected by construction works.
Preliminary peat surveys identified peat deposits of variable depth across the Site, including some areas where there is no peat present. Our initial design avoided the areas of deepest peat.
What we will do…
Further peat surveys will be undertaken to provide key information to the design team, to allow peat bodies to be avoided as far as possible by careful siting and design. Where peat cannot be avoided, location-specific mitigation measures will be set out to minimise effects on peat. This is planned to include peatland restoration proposals for suitable areas.
Protecting Watercourses During Construction
During the construction phase, pollution of water entering watercourses will be prevented through a range of measures including the use of silt traps, settlement ponds and cut off drains, as well as a surface water monitoring programme. This is to ensure that water quality in all downstream watercourses is protected and maintained.
Above: SPR’s inhouse Ecology Team conducting onsite fieldwork
Archaeology relates primarily to the buried remains and artefacts that could be affected by the construction works related to the building of the proposed Development.
Cultural heritage generally relates to other sites, features and locations in the wider landscape which have the potential to have their setting affected by the proposed Development.
Undertaken a desk-based study of the Site and surrounding areas to identify all known assets registered with national and local archaeological bodies.
No designated heritage assets (World Heritage Sites, Inventory Historic Battlefields, or Inventory Gardens and Designed Landscapes) are found within the proposed Development boundary. Four undesignated assets, recorded in the Canmore database, were identified onsite including two farmsteads, a fish house and shieling huts.
Several designated assets are present within 20 km of the Site. Of these, there are three that might have their setting affected during the operational phase of the proposed Development. These assets are the Castle of Mey Inventory Garden and Designed Landscape, and two Scheduled Monuments known as Earl’s Cairn and Thomsonfield Broch.
What we will do...
- Heritage assessments are ongoing and will be informed by the findings and analysis of other environmental studies and feedback from consultees.
- A Site walkover will also be undertaken in order to confirm the condition of known heritage assets, and to inspect the Site for any previously unknown features that may exist.
- Visits will also be made to heritage assets in the surrounding area (in particular the Castle of Mey Inventory Garden and Designed Landscape, and Earl’s Cairn and Thomsonfield Broch) and visualisations will be produced in order to illustrate views of the proposed Development from those assets, and to inform the assessment of potential setting effects.
Protecting Assets During Construction
An archaeological watching brief is proposed during construction to identify, record and, where appropriate, protect any remains that are discovered. Known features on Site will also be protected with buffer zones and visible barriers in order to minimise the risk of accidental disturbance.
SPR is undertaking a detailed study of the noise environment. This has included using existing background noise data from assessments for nearby windfarms and noise modelling to predict likely levels of wind turbine noise. Existing and predicted levels of windfarm noise will be considered against the current guidance to determine whether the scale of impacts will be significant.
The nearest noise sensitive receptors considered to be representative of residential dwellings in the immediate vicinity have been identified. The potential impact of noise from the proposed Development has been continuously assessed during the design process, and the layout refined through the appropriate siting of turbines in relation to the noise sensitive receptors.
What we will do…
Noise assessments are ongoing and will be completed following feedback from consultees and finalisation of the design.
Protecting Residents During Construction
Noise from construction activities will be controlled through the use of a Construction Environmental Management Plan.
SPR and our technical consultants have undertaken a preliminary assessment of the potential impacts on access, traffic and transport. This considered the potential effects of the proposed Development on the transport network, primarily in relation to construction vehicles.
Further studies also considered the route to the Site from the nearby ports, and the potential for environmental effects of vehicles using the public road network.
Abnormal load access is anticipated to be from the A836, bringing the turbine components from either from the Ports of Scrabster or Wick.
Potential routes from the Ports of Scrabster and Wick for the delivery of wind turbine blades and other components have been identified in an initial route survey report. These routes will be assessed in the route access study, which will also consider alternatives to ensure that the most appropriate route is chosen.
What we will do…
Traffic and transport assessments are ongoing. SPR and our technical consultants will undertake a detailed assessment of the potential impacts on access, traffic and transport which will be informed by the findings and analysis of other environmental studies and feedback from consultees.
Protecting Road Users and Residents
In order to minimise the impact on local residents and other road users, a Construction Environmental Management Plan and a Traffic Management Plan will be produced. The following practices will be used:
- Construction vehicles to use approved access routes and adhere to any necessary restrictions;
- Erection of appropriate temporary signage in the vicinity of the Site warning of construction traffic and warning other users of abnormal load turbine movements;
- Abnormal loads will be escorted from the port of entry with timings agreed with the road authorities and police as appropriate;
- Ground preparation, including protection of services;
Arrangements for road maintenance, wheel washing and road sweeping where necessary
Above: Image shows delivery vehicle with 57 m blade, Hollandmey RED blades will be up to 64.5 m in length
An assessment of the potential socio-economic, tourism and recreation impacts of the proposed Development is being undertaken as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report.
Reviewed the existing baseline conditions, including the identification of local interest groups, tourist attractions and public access.
Local interest groups have been included in scoping consultation, giving them the opportunity to consider the proposed Development and assist with the collection of baseline data, scrutinise the proposed scope of and approach to impact assessment, and provide feedback regarding any concerns they may have.
An assessment of the potential effects of the proposed Development against these baseline conditions will be undertaken as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment.
The construction and operation of the proposed Development has the potential to benefit the local and regional economies through:
- Direct construction and operation employment opportunities;
- Indirect employment further down the supply chain for those companies providing services to the contractors during the construction and operation phases of the development.
What we will do...
Assessments are ongoing and will be informed by the findings and analysis of other environmental studies and feedback from consultees.
As a minimum SPR is committed to:
- Seeking to use local labour where practical to maximise the benefits to the local economy;
- Making provision for access during the operation of the proposed Development;
- Continuing to consult with recreational groups to identify and respond to any opportunities and areas of concern;
- Engaging with local schools and educational establishments to share knowledge and build relationships;
- Working with the community to develop the Community Benefit and investment opportunities in a way that responds to their needs.
Wind turbines have the potential to interfere with military and civil aviation operations, primarily through effects on surveillance radar and communication and navigation equipment, but also as a physical obstruction if they are sited within military low flying areas.
Consulted with relevant stakeholders (MOD, CAA, NATS, Highland and Islands Airport, BAA Edinburgh, BAA Glasgow and Glasgow Prestwick Airport) in order to understand the current context and to identify any constraints.
The proposed Development is in an area remote from military aviation infrastructure, approximately 13.5 km to the north of Wick Airport. The Site is outside the Aerodrome Traffic Zone, but underneath or close to several of the instrument approach procedures published for the airport that lie outside the protection of regulated airspace.
What we will do…
- An assessment of civil and military aviation issues will be undertaken.
- Input will be obtained from the specialist consultants should any issues be identified that require mitigation or detailed technical assessment, including line-of sight assessments.
Wind turbines can potentially cause interference to telecommunication system signals through reflecting and shadowing telecommunication signals between transmitters and receivers.
Undertaken consultation with relevant bodies to establish the presence of utilities and telecommunication links across the Site.
Conducted a Telecommunications Impact Assessment to identify the links that might be affected by the proposed Development and potential mitigation measures.
Initial consultation has been undertaken with Spectrum Licensing (Ofcom) who confirmed that there are several telecommunications links in the vicinity of the Site.
SSE operate a powerline connecting Lochend Windfarm which runs through the southern portion of the Site. The location of this has been avoided during initial design development.
What we will do…
- Any potential information on communication links will be sought through consultation with relevant link operators.
- An assessment will be undertaken to determine the significance of any potential operational effects and where appropriate, suitable mitigation measures will be discussed with the link operator.
Shadow flicker is an effect caused by the rotation of the turbine blades when the sun is shining, which can create a flickering or strobe-like effect. This can be a cause of annoyance at residences near wind developments.
Reviewed the regional and national policy on shadow flicker and identified residential properties within 2 km of the application boundary.
There are no formal guidelines currently available on what exposure would be acceptable in relation to shadow flicker. There is no standard for the assessment of shadow flicker. The Scottish Government’s web-based guide relating to onshore wind turbines (Scottish Government 2013) suggests that as a general rule shadow flicker should not pose problems beyond a distance of 10 rotor diameters from a wind turbine, which equates to a maximum of 1500 m in this instance.
Department of Environment and Climate Change studies have shown that in northern latitudes shadows from wind turbines can only be cast 130 degrees either side of north relative to the turbine due to the orientation of the earth’s axis and the positioning of the sun.
This equates to a region of 50 degrees either side of due south where a wind turbine would never cast a shadow and therefore properties within this region would experience no effects from shadow flicker.
What we will do…
The proposed Development will be designed where possible to avoid turbine placements within the Zone of Potential Shadow Flicker (ZPSF). If it is not possible to avoid shadow flicker effects through turbine placement, then the dates, times and durations of shadow flicker events for each property within the ZPSF will be calculated and an assessment of effects at these properties included in the Environmental Impact Assessment.
The inclusion of solar panels will be confirmed through the design process. If not included in the final design, there would be no requirement to assess these potential effects in the Environmental Impact Assessment.
Solar panels have varying reflectivity properties, however, no solar panel absorbs 100% of incoming light. As a result, solar panels have the potential to produce solar reflection in the form of solar glint (a momentary flash of bright light) and solar glare (a continuous source of bright light). Solar glint may be witnessed by moderate to fast-moving receptors while solar glare may be encountered by static or slow-moving receptors with respect to a solar development.
Reviewed guidance, current studies and consultation responses and have proposed a study area, including dwellings, road users, railway users and aviation receptors, and methodology for assessing solar glint and glare effects.
What we will do…
- An assessment of solar glint and glare will be undertaken.
- Input will be obtained from the specialist consultants should any issues be identified that require mitigation or detailed technical assessment.
The proposed Development, once operational, would generate zero carbon energy which would help to offset the release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by fossil fuel-dependent energy generation. During their construction and decommissioning, however, renewable energy developments can themselves result in GHG emissions, for example from turbine manufacture and site preparation. This is particularly the case where natural carbon stores such as forestry or peat are present and potentially impacted by the development.
Avoided siting wind turbines within the areas of deepest peat throughout the initial design process.
What we will do…
- To minimise peat disturbance during construction, especially during excavation, Best Practicable Measures will also be considered that will be provided as part of the Construction Environmental Management Plan.
- A Carbon Balance Assessment will be prepared in accordance with best practice guidance to outline the time taken for the carbon impact of the development to be reversed by the zero-carbon electricity generation.
The current land use of the Site is predominantly commercial forestry.
Undertaken a desk-based review to understand the nature of the forestry onsite.
A Development Forest Design Plan will be produced as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process to show which woodlands would be felled to facilitate the proposed Development and how the forest will be re-stocked during the life of the proposed Development.
Above: SPR’s Kilgallioch Windfarm during construction, Kilgallioch hub height is 105 m, Hollandmey hub height will be 84 m
What we will do…
This Site is largely stocked with middle aged conifers and the aim will be to carry out keyhole felling to accommodate the turbines wherever possible to avoid adverse environmental impacts; this will also minimise both the amount of felling and the area of Compensation Planting that may be required. It is thought that keyhole felling as opposed to the alternative of clear felling will not have too great an impact on turbine efficiency. Keyhole felling aims to avoid woodland loss wherever possible and where this is not possible, to have the smallest possible keyhole and associated felling within afforested areas. The size of the keyhole is dependent on a number of factors relating to the crop, turbine selection and other factors such as the presence of protected species.
A complete forestry assessment will be carried out to provide the information required by The Highland Council and to provide all the necessary advice and information, including a complete assessment of the growing stock and the volume of timber that would need to be felled, as required for the Environmental Impact Assessment.
Design mitigation will be embedded into the Site design as a result of the Environmental Impact Assessment surveys where possible. Factors considered early on in the project development have taken cognisance of the following:
- Consideration of important viewpoints such as Dunnet Head and seeking to reduce the horizontal extent of the proposed Development;
- Consideration of how the proposed Development would fit with other windfarms in the area and cumulative effects on views;
- Turbines are located such that that they are at least 1km away from the nearest noise sensitive receptor;
- We have sought to avoid areas of deep peat as far as practicable. Impacts on watercourses have been minimised by retaining a buffer of 50 m from any of the turbines, cranepad hardstandings, temporary compounds or the substation in the Site design;
- The road layout uses as much existing forestry road as possible, reducing the amount of new track and water crossings required for the construction of the proposed Development;
- The Site design avoids any known designated assets through applying a buffer;
- Appropriate stand-off distances have been integrated into the Site design to ensure there is no impact on the underground power cable connecting Lochend Windfarm.
In addition, SPR will ensure there are no detrimental effects for residents on their telecommunication services.
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