Cloonty wind farm

Background

Blackstaff Ecology was commissioned by Gaelectric to provide EcoW’s (Ecological Clerk of Works) supervision during the construction of a 9.2MW Wind Farm near Castlecat in County Antrim. This was due to the presence of sensitive receptors (i.e. raised bog habitat) as well as the presence of badger setts and a requirement for EcoW’s supervision within the CMS (Construction Method Statement). The site comprises a mixture of improved farmland, coniferous plantation, and a bog woodland/raised bog mosaic.

There are also scattered ponds, hedgerows and drainage ditches within the wider area. The majority of works are located on the ecological poor improved farmland, however, one of the turbines was located on a former area of raised bog which was identified within the Planning Application and HMP (Habitat Management Plan) as a sensitive habitat.

Our role

Our ecological advice and support informed a planning application to the Local Council for an alteration to the site entrance and access track in order to accommodate a request from a landowner. The local badger population was known to be healthy due to the juxtaposition of improved agricultural land (with its abundant earthworm prey) with bog woodland on the edges of raised bog (with favoured sett locations). Therefore detailed badger surveys (including camera trapping) were carried out to locate local badger setts on site and to ensure the track diversion maintained a 25m buffer to all sett locations (active or otherwise).

During the EcoW supervision a section of the proposed access track needed to be constructed in between newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). The drains needed to be protected by a 5m buffer along which silt fencing was installed. During works to prepare the site for construction a population of common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) was identified which had not been recorded during surveys to inform the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) for the Wind Farm. Therefore, NIEA was contacted and a Common Lizard Mitigation Plan prepared in order to allow construction works to continue (under licence) as both species are protected under The Wildlife (NI) Order 1985.

Lizard survey

A common lizard survey was undertaken in accordance with the NIEA survey specification (NIEA 20131) in order to establish the presence of common lizard within the survey site. An initial site visit was undertaken on the 7th August 2015 to identify suitable basking habitat and to design a walked transect. The site and surrounding area was initially walked to identify potential natural basking spots. However, as few suitable areas were identified with the site boundary, (or were obscured by tall vegetation, it was decided to place artificial refugia in suitable locations. In addition to the NIEA methodology,consideration was also given to the Draft survey protocols for the British herpetofauna. The latter document references (Sewell et al. 2012) who recommend that at least 30 refugia should be laid for presence/absence purposes, and that this number applied regardless of the size of site as long as the artificial refugia were appropriately positioned. Therefore for this survey 40 refugia were used. Transects incorporated both walking slowly scanning the ground 3-4 m in front for the presence of basking lizards as well as checking the (40) artificial refugia which had also been placed across the site.

Mitigation

The main mitigation is based on progressively clearing the site of vegetation in a manner that encouraged any common lizards & smooth newts present to move away on their own. No translocation was required due to the limited development footprint (7m wide access track construction corridor), and the previously agreed habitat management measures which were designed to benefit both species for the lifetime of the Wind Farm.

In addition to this a dual purpose protective silt fencing (/newt & lizard barrier fencing) was also installed along either site of the construction corridor (between chainage 500 and 650). This both prevented run-off reaching the adjacent water filled drains (e.g. potential newt breeding habitat) as well as preventing any lizards or newts from straying into the works area (once the
vegetation and potential refugia had been cleared away by hand).

  • CLIENT Wind farm near Bushmills in County Antrim
  • YEAR 2015
  • CATEGORY