Residents and conservationists are concerned that the breeding success of owls could be at risk from proposals to continue construction work at a shale gas site in north Nottinghamshire beyond the end of this month.
The IGas site at Springs Road is next to the Misson Training Area nature reserve, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) used by five species of owls.
A condition of the planning permission for the shale gas site prohibited construction work during the bird breeding season, from February-August, unless it could be demonstrated that the noise would not have an adverse impact on breeding birds in the SSSI.
IGas has submitted a report to Nottinghamshire County Council, providing what it says is evidence that the owls would not be affected by work during the breeding season.
But Misson Parish Council and the local Misson Community Action Group are opposing IGas’s request to continue work into February. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, which manages the nature reserve, said it remained concerned about disturbance.
Planning permission was finalised for Springs Road in early June 2017. But the site did not become operational until 20 November 2017. According to a report by planning officers, the construction phase of the work was expected to take 14-15 weeks (p125).
The reason given for the planning condition on work in the breeding season was:
“To ensure that breeding birds, particularly Long-Eared Owl, are not adversely affected by the development and in accordance with Policy M3.19 (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) of the Nottinghamshire MLP [Minerals Local Plan].”
The report submitted by IGas said predicted construction noise in the SSSI would be below the threshold for disturbance to owls, based on guidance from the USA Fish and Wildlife Service. It was also below levels in guidelines from the Institute of Estuarine & Coastal Studies, the report said. It concluded:
“Disturbance to owls or other birds due to construction noise is unlikely to occur.
“Noise from construction is unlikely to contain high level impulses (such as those contained in piling or pneumatic breaking) and it is therefore highly unlikely that birds will be startled.
“It is therefore concluded that there is no reason why construction of the site compound and access track should not go ahead at any time of year, including during the breeding season.”
But residents and conservationists remain worried that the owls will be disturbed and have sent objections to the county council.
Resident Jayne Watson said the IGas report had relied largely on research about the impact of big developments, such as flood defences, on estuarine birds.
“This is a completely different context to the noise-sensitive species, particularly owls, at Misson.
“A slight increase in noise will affect their ability to hunt and forage. If they cannot forage and hunt it could affect their ability to breed and raise chicks.”
Ms Watson said the community hoped the planning authority would show its resolve and stand up for the planning conditions at Misson.
“Everyone worked really hard to secure the conditions on the planning permission. There was a very good reason for that condition to be imposed.”
“Why can’t IGas stop their construction and resume at the end of the bird breeding season. They could then complete site construction done and drilling before the next breeding bird season.
“The level of concern within the village is such that people are saying we have to do something. This isn’t a public consultation but you can still make your views known.”
The November community liaison group for the IGas site heard that Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust had serious concerns that IGas would seek to continue construction work into the bird breeding season (link to clg minutes).
A spokesperson for Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust said today:
“Having reviewed the evidence provided by Igas, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust remains concerned that the work may cause disturbance to sensitive species.
“We will be meeting with IGas, along with Natural England, to review the evidence and have requested an extension to enable us to provide a full assessment as part of Nottinghamshire County Council’s consultation.
“We believe strongly that all planning decisions should take a precautionary approach – if there remain unanswered concerns about impacts on wildlife and the environment then permissions should be refused.
“This is even more critical when designated wildlife areas and rare or protected species are potentially at risk. “
Decision on condition
Nottinghamshire County Council confirmed today that IGas was not seeking to vary the condition or make a new application.
A council spokesperson said:
“The Mineral Planning Authority (MPA) seeks technical advice where necessary on submissions made under conditions attached to planning permissions and, in this instance, has consulted Natural England, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and the County Council’s Ecologist and Noise Engineer, in addition to Misson Parish Council.
“The closing date for comments is 18 January. However, the submission of schemes under conditions is not subject to a formal period of public consultation.”
The spokesperson said planning officers had delegated authority to make a decision on the IGas evidence.
“As soon as the MPA has received responses from the consultees it will look to make a decision on the submission in a timely manner thereafter.”
Campaigners opposed to IGas’s operations at Springs Road established a camp near the site on 9 January 2018. Deliveries have been delayed by slow-walking protests.