Ecology and wind farm construction – find out more!

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Find out more about the work of our onsite ecologist Lucy Newill of Natural Power Consultants.

Please can you let us know a little more about your role?

I work as an Ecological Clerk of Works (ECoW) for Natural Power. Mine and my colleague’s primary role is to ensure compliance with the environmental planning conditions, including hydrology, river and land pollution, protected species and landscape. We carry out pre-construction checks for sensitive habitats and species and provide ecological advice and guidance to Vattenfall and their contractors. Throughout the construction phase we also advise on site management and working methods to avoid environmental incidents such as habitat damage or pollution.

 

How does your role fit in to the grand scheme of the project?

As an ECoW a large part of our role is carrying out pre-construction checks for sensitive habitats and species especially during the breeding bird season (March to September). These checks identify sensitive areas/ locations and measures needed to safeguard them i.e. nest exclusions. These regular checks ensure the contractor is kept up to date with ecological constraints and exclusions and allow adequate forward planning to minimise delay to works and the programme. We also complete daily site checks to ensure compliance with planning conditions and good practice working methods, we are also on hand to provide advice to the client or the contractor regarding environmental aspects of the site.

What are the main considerations of your role?

Whilst our primary considerations are environmental in nature we are there as part of the wider site team to deliver the project on time and budget. Our task is to work together with the client and contractor to inform and advise on environmental and ecological constraints and minimise delays due to these factors.

 

What is your favourite part of the job?

I enjoy lots of parts of the job, especially meeting people, I like working with people and the communication aspect of the job. I like being able to help with a situation/problem, being able to give my advice and being a beneficial part of the project.

What kind of species have you come across onsite?

Upland coniferous forestry is not generally a biodiverse habitat although it can support a number of species of conservation concern. Since starting on site the ECoW team have generated records of numerous species including Otter, Honey Buzzard, Twite, Stoat, Osprey etc….. All sorts! Before I came to PYC I had never seen a Hare, stoat or a nightjar.

Are there any species onsite that you have been particularly concerned about?

We weren’t really concerned about any of the species on site, as a large volume of information was been collected during planning process on the sensitive species present on site and their locations. Since the start of construction we have worked with the construction team (JBBB) to ensure that all sensitive habitats or protected species are considered and legislation is adhered to.

The planning process surveys identified four species of birds which have presence on site or in the surrounding area of significant conservation concern – Nightjar, Honey Buzzard, Goshawk and Peregrine. These are listed on either schedule 1 of the wildlife and countryside act or annex 1 of the habitats directive.

All wild birds, their nests and eggs are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Pre-construction checks during the breeding bird season (March-August) are completed to identify any active nests in areas which are due to be disturbed by works. If an active nest is identified no works can be completed within a certain buffer of the nest depending on the bird species. A nesting bird is usually more sensitive when the nest is still at egg stage as they are more likely to desert at the egg stage rather than chicks.

Guidance recommends that Nightjars have a 200m buffer on their nest sites to prevent disturbance and as such works cannot progress within 200m of a nest. Nightjars were identified to be nesting in certain areas of the site and within 200m of works areas. For works to be able to continue in these locations Natural Power radio tagged the female bird in conjunction with Ecology Matters which meant we were able to monitor the females location and complete a watching brief on the nest while works continued within the 200m exclusion.

What are the implications of such species on the construction timeline?

In general there is little impact in the timeline of works from these species as due to the planning process and Vattenfalls completion of update surveys during construction accurate information was and is available on locations to allow sufficient notice to the client and contractor for these matters to be addressed and worked around.

When we encounter such a situation the priority is communication of the key facts and identification of an appropriate way forward including mitigation measures to maintain the sensitive feature and construction programme as far as possible. This could involve actions such as amending layouts to avoid ecological features, or the timing of works to restrict works during sensitive periods etc. i.e. During this year’s breeding season we worked with the engineer of JBBB to ensure buffers were put around the nests and if possible move tracks slightly to stay out of the buffer zones.

We have also completed watching briefs on certain nests to ensure minimal disturbance is caused.

How are you working with the construction team towards the future Habitat Management of the site?

This consideration is an integral part of our works on site and influences all our advice and decisions so all opportunities to maximise beneficial impacts on the HMP are completed within programme and budgetary constraints. For example as part of water management works the contractor has been very receptive in using non-standard methods, such as sheet piling and ditch blocking, to control water but also have long term benefits on peatland water levels. i.e. aiding in the restoring of the bogs present.