Swans and snails take centre stage at wind farm hearing, but why?

Concerns about whooper swan habitats and whether or not the whorl snail is present at a proposed wind farm development site in Co. Longford were raised by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) during an oral hearing in the county on Wednesday, June 12.

The hearing, which was chaired by John Desmond, planning inspector, An Bord Pleanála, was held to examine submissions made by a number of entities including the Irish Wildlife Trust; Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII); Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA); Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI); NPWS; and the ‘No to Derryadd Wind Farm’ group – all of whom have highlighted their opposition to the development.

Meanwhile, Bord na Móna Powergen Ltd is seeking permission to develop the wind farm – and all associated infrastructure – comprising 24 wind turbines, nine of which will be located in Derryrogue Bog; eight in Derryadd Bog; and seven at Lough Bannow Bog – close to Lanesboro.

Emmett Johnston, divisional ecologist, Ecological Divisional Unit of the NPWS, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht pointed out to those gathered, that the department had – on four occasions – provided written observations and data to Tobin Consulting Engineers on behalf of Bord na Móna Powergen Ltd, in respect of the planning application.

‘Implications and observations’

He also highlighted that submissions had been made by the department to An Bord Pleanála in respect of the matter.

Particular emphasis was placed on the department’s observations of the adequacy of the data, information and analysis that is available.

Johnston continued: “An emphasis has also been placed on the implications for the proposed development for the conservation objectives and integrity of designated site and/or the conservation of species protected by law.”

He went on to say that the department has highlighted to An Bord Pleanála the potential for the proposed development to impact generally on protected species and habitats, and more specifically, on curlew, whooper swan, hen harrier, barn owl and vertigo species as well as on the Lough Bawn proposed Natural Heritage Area (pNHA).

The department has also outlined its concerns with regard to the citing of turbines to avoid areas of conservation interest.

“At its closest point, the development site boundary is within approximately 350m of the Lough Ree Special Protection Area (SPA) and whooper swan is listed as a Special Conservation Interest (SCI) for this SPA,” the ecological expert added.

Whooper swan foraging

Meanwhile, Johnston pointed to an ornithology report submitted on behalf of Bord na Móna Powergen Ltd, which indicates that the whooper swan regularly used seasonally flooded pools for both feeding and roosting in the development site during the winter months.

He said that while the report attributes the bulk of the on-site foraging by whooper swan to exceptional rainfall and flooding events in the winter of 2014, four years of survey data “clearly shows that the whooper swan regularly used the site for foraging and roosting outside of those exceptional flooding events”.

Johnston also pointed out that the department is of the opinion that, although site usage is opportunistic in nature, the level of site use recorded across the four years of survey data is sufficient to warrant the provision of mitigation measures for the species in the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) and the Natura Impact Statement (NIS) regarding this species.

“This means introducing mitigation measures which enable the continued inter-annual use by the whooper swans of opportunistic foraging grounds on or within the development site,” he continued, before pointing to the concerns the department has around adequate mitigation on the site’s drainage works.

“The department is also concerned that without adequate mitigation the drainage works associated with one of the wind turbines on the site will result in the further drying out of habitats connected to the Lough Bawn pNHA.”

Is the whorl snail present?

Meanwhile, the hearing was told that a survey for species of whorl snails carried out in October 2018 on behalf of Bord na Móna Powergen Ltd identified an area of Lough Bawn as having “low potential suitability” for the species.

Johnston said – as a result of the findings of the survey – the department is now concerned that absence of detection in the field has been interpreted as evidence of absence.

“Due to the difficulty in detecting this species the department has requested that the standard survey methodology used in this instance be clarified,” he concluded.