Zde najdete kontakty pro váš region.

Protecting local birdlife during cable installation in Shetland

7. 11. 2023

While laying the onshore section of a high-voltage interconnector cable in Shetland, Scotland, NKT has successfully protected a range of bird species, including seven wader species nested in and around this particular construction site. The project was successfully completed on-time and on-budget, proving that with the right attitude and approach, it is indeed possible to conduct construction works hand-in-hand with local wildlife.

By Andrew Whitelee, Environmental clerk of works, Shetland Project
As an ecologist/environmental clerk of works on the large NKT power interconnector construction project in Shetland, I have environmental responsibilities for an 8km section of the project where a high-voltage cable is being installed underground to link the substation to the shoreline. This cable will then join a subsea cable that links to Wick in mainland Scotland. When the project comes online it will bring renewable wind energy from Shetland, linking it into the main electricity grid in Scotland.
The cable route runs through areas of high biodiversity value, such as deep peat, ground water dependent terrestrial ecosystems (GWDTE), dry and wet heath and rough grassland used for sheep grazing. The route has to be dug up, ducts installed for the cables to be pulled through at a later date and then reinstated so that the land can recover as quickly as possible. These habitats have good potential for ground-nesting birds such as waders so throughout the breeding season my work entails trying to keep both disturbance to breeding birds and disruption to the project to a minimum.
All bird nests are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 so if anyone on site disturbs, damages or destroys a nest then it is reportable to the police as a potential wildlife crime. My role is to keep everyone on site on the right side of environmental law and help NKT’s commitment to leaving the site in the same or better state than before NKT began the project and the desire for a nature positive future through biodiversity net gain.
Protecting birdlife during construction
The key to a successful breeding bird season on a construction site comes from good planning and preparation. If an active nest is identified on site, then works in that area have to stop until the nest is no longer in use. Any stoppages for bird nests could potentially add time and expenses to the construction budget, so it is important that we avoid any unnecessary delays.
Ahead of the start of breeding bird season, I went around the site identifying areas I thought could be potential nest sites for both ground-nesting birds and passerines. For example, holes in cable drums are a particular favourite of species such as Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba and European Starlings Sturnus vulgaris, so where possible, these were blocked. For ground-nesting birds, the issues are slightly vaguer as nests could potentially be built anywhere on site that a bird feels is suitable.
eggs from shetland birds
shetland bird on wooden pillar
shetland employee at the shore
shetland bird peeking out of pipe
I never look to completely exclude ground-nesting birds from sites; experience has taught me this is often too difficult to achieve. Instead, I am trying to maintain a balance between construction work continuing unhindered and birds having opportunities to complete a successful breeding season.
Prior to works starting in a new area, I would carry out nest checks to see if there were any nests established there. If there were any nests, I worked out suitable mitigation measures. These can range from just making sure everyone is aware of the nest and avoiding the area, to marking out exclusion zones or, in the worst-case scenario, preventing any construction work from taking place until I am satisfied the nest has fledged. Normally on construction sites, nests are marked with an exclusion zone made of canes and marker tape. However, my feeling is that this gives predators somewhere to perch and draws unnecessary attention to the nests. If nests weren’t anywhere that was in immediate danger of disturbance by site operatives, I would rather GPS their location and take a different route to monitor them each time to avoid trampling too much vegetation.
Sometimes a tricky part of the job can be getting site operatives to buy into the idea of stopping work if they find a nest. On construction sites in the past, there was definitely a mentality that it’s “only a nest” so let’s just carry on, and I am sure a lot of nests have been destroyed this way over the years. However, with more of an emphasis on sustainability and good working practices it does mean that more and more operatives are happy to tell you if they find a nest. In fact, some take great pride in finding a nest. The key is being open and friendly and ensuring that operatives realise I am there to help and not to get them into trouble. This project has been very positive and encouraged everyone to be on the lookout for birds and other wildlife and report sightings to me.
Leaving a minimal footprint on the land
Seven wader species nested in and around this particular construction site, consisting of Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Redshank Tringa totanus, Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata, Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria and Common Ringed Plover, although I only managed to find active nests for three of these species (Eurasian Oystercatcher, European Golden Plover and Common Ringed Plover). Juveniles of all of the above species were seen on site, indicating that all species had some breeding success. It is important to point out that my observations are anecdotal and not a scientific study with the associated academic rigour that would entail.
The Shetland project recently concluded successfully. The installation of the high-voltage underground cable was executed on-time and on-budget, despite extra effort being taken to protect and support local birdlife – proving that it is possible to both protect and work with the local wildlife, while also supporting the green transition.
* A version of this article was originally published in Wader Quest Newsletter

NKT Newsletter

Přihlaste se k odběru newsletteru a mějte tak přehled o našich novinkách.