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A detailed botanical survey of wetlands at the head of Loch Lochy, needs to be included as part of any environmental assessment carried out over the potential dumping of millions of tons of spoil at nearby Mucomir as part of the construction of the proposed pumped storage scheme at Coire Glas.
So said Dr Jon Mercer, chairman of Lochaber Biodiversity Action Group (LBGA), speaking this week after examining the 96-page scoping request lodged with Highland Council planners by energy generator, SSE Renewables.
The Coire Glas project already has planning consent, but further approval would be needed if the site at Mucomir, which already has permission for quarrying activities, was deemed suitable for the spreading of 2.6million tons of spoil.
Details of the sort of works and equipment, including dumper trucks, excavators, conveyor belts and barges, and possibly even a rock crushing facility, have been included in the scoping request, which aims to find out what would need to be in any Environmental Impact Assessment accompanying a planning application.
A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) was carried out by EnviroCentre Limited in September 2021 of the site proposed for use.
Biological records of bats, red squirrel, pine marten, hedgehog, brown hare and a range of bird species were returned during the desk study.
The habitats on site offer commuting and foraging habitat for bats, amphibians, otter, water vole, red squirrel, pine marten, badger, hedgehog, brown hare, reptiles, a range of bird species, wild boar, fish species and freshwater pearl mussel.
SSER received consent for the Coire Glas 1055MW Pumped Storage Hydro (PSH) project in October 2020 but as spoil storage in this location was not originally included, further planning permission would be required.
SSER now wishes to proceed with an application for planning permission for this purpose at Mucomir Farm as one potential spoil management option.
Dr Mercer believes the LBAP should be included in the consultation as he believes there would ‘inevitably be some ecological damage on the site’, and told the Lochaber Times it is doubtful whether mitigation measures, including final landscaping, would compensate for this.
As for the nearby wetlands, they include ponds that attract a variety of wildlife, including migrating waders, with rarities such as green sandpiper visiting regularly.
The fields themselves also often attract wintering geese, which include occasional Greenland white-fronts.
Brown hare have declined in the immediate area, and this dumping of spoil could effectively kill off any residual population, probably along with any possible water voles.
Dr Mercer told us: ‘The proposed Mucomir site for the dumping of spoil waste from the Coire Glas site potentially poses a threat to local biodiversity, particularly threatened wader populations.
‘The wetland areas at the head of Loch Lochy have been historically altered by the channelling of the River Lochy, but still provide an important mixture of semi-natural habitats, including ponds, bog, wet grassland, scrub and shingle banks.
‘It is to be hoped that a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment will be carried out, including a detailed botanical survey of the wetlands, before any decisions are finally made about dumping sites.
‘If work does go ahead, then the Lochaber Biodiversity Action Group hope that the land could be sensitively restored to include new wetland and wet woodland features, when landscaped.’