Ecological Impact Assessment
Best Practice Guidance for Habitat Survey and Mapping (Client: Heritage Council)
Dr Smith was lead author of the Best Practice Guidance for Habitat Survey and Mapping published by the Heritage Council. The Guidance is designed for use by those commissioning and those carrying out habitat survey and mapping at a range of scales from wide landscape to small site scales. The Best Practice Guidance forms the companion volume to A Guide to Habitats in Ireland (Fossitt, 2000), which is the primary habitat classification system used in Ireland. The Guidance begins with an introduction to the ecological issues involved in habitat classification at various scales and an introduction to mapping, GIS, use of GPS and metadata. Advice on planning and managing habitat surveys is provided, and the stages of a well-executed habitat survey are outlined. The Best Practice Guidance follows with recommendations on planning field surveys and data management. Desktop review of existing ecological datasets and non-digital information and the importance of consultations with knowledgeable bodies and landowners are discussed. Detailed guidance on field survey and mapping forms the central section of the book. Detailed guidelines on producing and managing GIS datasets, maps, quality assurance and metadata are also provided. The Guidance concludes with an overview of the uses to which habitat survey and mapping data can be put and other ecological surveys that can be carried out to build on habitat survey data. The Best Practice Guidance has reviewed by a number of experts in habitat survey and GIS.
Ballybeagh Wind Farm (Client: Private Developer)
Blackthorn Ecology prepared the Natura Impact Statement (Appropriate Assessment) and the Ecological Impact Assessment section of the EIS for a seven (7) turbine wind farm in Kilkenny in 2012-2013. We have also completed a separate Natura Impact Statement for the on-site substation that will connect Ballybeagh Wind Farm and two other nearby wind farms to the electricity grid. Potential impacts on water quality were the main ecological concerns, as the site straddles two sub-catchments that are part of the River Barrow and River Nore SAC. This SAC is an extensive site designated for a large number of sensitive habitats and species, including Atlantic salmon, otter, lamprey, floating river vegetation and Nore freshwater pearl mussel. The assessments proposed robust mitigation measures that would eliminate potential impacts. The wind farm and substation have since been granted planning permission and are under construction.
Tibradden Wood High Wire Course (Client: ZIPIT Forest Adventures)
Blackthorn Ecology carried out an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) for a high wire and zipline adventure course at Tibradden Wood in the Dublin Mountains in 2012. The need for an EcIA arose from a further information request by Dún Laoghaire – Rathdown County Council concerned about potential impacts on woodland habitats and fauna. We carried out a field survey of woodland habitats and mammals supplemented by a desktop review of biodiversity records. Potential impacts were predicted to be low, as the site was already a busy recreation area. Nevertheless, mitigation measures were adopted to promote positive ecological impacts, including erecting bat boxes, controlling visitor disturbance through careful routing of paths, litter control measures, and collecting records of red and grey squirrel sightings during wire course operation. Monitoring during course construction was carried out to ensure no disturbance of red squirrel, a Dún Laoghaire – Rathdown Biodiversity Action Plan species.
Finea Quarry (Client: Enviroco Management / Private Developer)
Blackthorn Ecology completed an Appropriate Assessment and an Ecological Impact Assessment for a proposed gravel quarry in Finea, Co. Westmeath in 2011. Planning authorities were particularly concerned about the possibility of hydrological impacts on intact raised bogs at Moneybeg and Clareisland Bogs SAC. We reviewed available literature on the hydrology of raised bogs prior to a field survey of the proposed quarry site and the SAC. In collaboration with the project hydrologist, Blackthorn Ecology determined that the proposed excavation depth would not significantly impact on the conservation objectives of the SAC; other impacts from dust deposition or noise disturbance were also assessed as being not significant. At the proposed quarry site, a number of currently inactive badger setts were found during field survey. Mitigation measures were proposed to minimise impacts on this protected species, including monitoring prior to sett disturbance and sett exclusion under NPWS license, should this be required.
Holmes Hill Wind Farm (Client: Private Developer)
In 2012, Blackthorn Ecology prepared the Natura Impact Statement (Appropriate Assessment) and Ecological Impact Assessment section of the EIS for Holmes Hill Wind Farm in Kilkenny. In 2014 we prepared an AA screening for the wind farm electricity grid connection, which consisted of 5 km of overhead and underground 20kV transmission lines. The main constrain for both projects was the Kings River a short distance downstream. The Kings River is part of the River Barrow and River Nore SAC, designated for a large number of sensitive aquatic and terrestrial habitats and species. Rigorous water quality mitigation measures were proposed to ensure no significant impacts on the SAC or other ecological receptors. Particular attention was paid to cumulative impacts arising in combination with two other nearby wind farms. The projects have received full planning permission and construction is currently underway.
Lisdowney Windfarm (Client: Private Developer)
Blackthorn Ecology completed an Appropriate Assessment (AA) of a four turbine windfarm west of Ballyragget, Co. Kilkenny and AA screening for the overground and underground grid connection. As the site was located upstream of a population of the critically endangered Nore freshwater pearl mussel in the River Barrow and River Nore SAC, AA screening for the wind farm concluded that full AA was required for the project. Blackthorn Ecology collaborated with the developer to devise a rigorous system of water quality mitigation to prevent significant impacts to the pearl mussel and to the SAC. The full AA concluded that the proposed mitigation would prevent significant negative impacts. The AA screening of the grid connection, which crossed three tributaries of the River Nore, concluded that due to the integration of robust best practice measures in installing the transmission line, that significant impacts were extremely unlikely and that full AA was not required.
Cavan Three Roads Project (Client: Cavan County Council)
Dr Smith was project manager and lead ecologist for environmental assessments, including ecological, landscape and noise impact assessments, for three local relief or access roads in Co. Cavan: Ballyconnell, Bailieborough and Cavan town. The proposed routes each presented their own unique ecological features and challenges. For example, the Ballyconnell relief road crossed a major river and had the potential to fragment populations of otter, waterfowl and bats along the river corridor. The Cavan East Access Route crossed through an interdrumlin wetland complex, including a series of breeding ponds used by the protected smooth newt. Dr Smith advised on changes to design and mitigation measures in close consultation with design engineers to avoid, minimise or compensate for significant impacts. Measures included mammal fencing and underpasses, creation of a compensatory pond and wetland complex, and translocation of smooth newt and common frog under NPWS license. Monitoring is ongoing, and surveys have confirmed the presence of breeding newts in their new home.
Clonbrock – Ahascragh – Bunowen Rivers Maintenance Project (Client: Galway County Council)
In 2010, Dr Smith was project manager and lead ecologist for an Appropriate Assessment (AA) and an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) for a river maintenance and flood relief project on behalf of Galway County Council. GCC proposed to carry out river maintenance works to a tributary of the River Suck, which is designated under the EU Birds Directive as the River Suck Callows Special Protection Area (SPA). The project aims were to assess potential impacts on the conservation interests of the SPA and to develop mitigation measures. Sensitive ecological features identified during land and boat-based field surveys included wintering wildfowl and wading birds, otter, badger, white-clawed crayfish, Kingfisher, and habitats listed on Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive. Potential impacts included water quality impacts, disturbance to nesting birds and breeding mammals, habitat loss, and potential changes in hydrological regime to the downstream SPA. The AA and EcIA, including mitigation measures, were submitted to NPWS for review and approval to allow the flood relief works to proceed. Mitigation included a presentation to the contractors on ecologically sensitive maintenance practices.
Portrane Residential Development (Client: Private Developer)
Dr Smith provided ecological support for a planning application for a housing development in Portrane, Co. Dublin. The key ecological issues were coastal erosion and location near Rogerstown Estuary Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area for birds (SPA). Dr Smith carried out field and desk studies to assess the risks of coastal erosion to the proposed development and determine if the proposed development would increase the already significant levels of disturbance to the adjacent marram dune habitat. An optimal setback of the development from the foredune was recommended based on best practice in Ireland and Scotland, and a programme of dune restoration was designed, including conversion of improved amenity grassland to natural dune grassland and repair of gaps in the dune crest using sand-accumulation fencing.