Wetlands and freshwater habitats

River Nore Heritage Audit (Client: Kilkenny County Council)

Blackthorn Ecology carried out the natural heritage component of a multidisciplinary heritage audit of the lower River Nore in collaboration with Kilkenny Archaeology. We surveyed the river corridor and adjacent habitats along the 31.4 km stretch of the river from Kilkenny City to Inistioge. Surveys were informed by initial desk studies and consultations so that the most ecologically important habitats and species could be targeted in the field. Habitats were mapped according to the Heritage Council and EU Habitats Directive classification schemes. Flora and fauna were recorded and significant populations were located using GPS. Blackthorn Ecology paid particular attention to recording populations of endangered species, such as autumn crocus, and invasive non-natives, such as Himalayan balsam. Desk and field survey results were used to compile a GIS database and maps of habitats, significant natural heritage areas, and Green Infrastructure. The latter included important habitats for floodwater retention, carbon sequestration and recreation.

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.

Lisdowney Windfarm (Client: Private Developer)

Blackthorn Ecology completed an Appropriate Assessment (AA) of a four turbine windfarm west of Ballyragget, Co. Kilkenny in support of an application for changes to a permitted windfarm. An AA had not been carried out for the site previously. 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 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.

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 initial surveys in 2011 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.

Ballinasloe Old East Bridge Channel Maintenance (Client: Galway County Council)

Dr Smith was project manager and lead ecologist for an Appropriate Assessment (AA) screening and construction supervision of flood relief works at the Old East Bridge in Ballinasloe. To prevent future flooding episodes, like that which occurred in autumn 2009, drainage maintenance was carried out in two dry overflow channels of the River Suck. Dr Smith surveyed the site and liaised with NPWS on potential impacts to the nearby River Suck Callows SPA, designated as being of European importance for birds. He concluded that there would be no significant impacts on the integrity of the SPA, provided that recommended mitigation was implemented. This included a site briefing of channel maintenance staff and ecological supervision during the course of the works.