RSPB Scotland is concerned with the latest proposals issued by Transport Scotland for the upgrading of the A9 beside Kingussie and Newtonmore to dual carriageway. The project could represent a win-win for transport and wildlife but current proposals fall short of what is required. The conservation charity says that the plans risk long-term harm to important wildlife at a site that is considered to be the most important natural floodplain in Britain.
After carefully examining the proposals and Environmental Statement provided by Transport Scotland, RSPB Scotland is disappointed to discover that the many effects on wildlife haven’t been adequately accounted for and will therefore be objecting to the proposals as they currently stand. The charity believes that Transport Scotland should propose additional habitat enhancement and other conservation measures to ensure no overall harm to the important wildlife of the area. The charity is also encouraging people in the Strathspey area to view the proposals online or attend the public exhibitions that Transport Scotland is holding in Newtonmore and Kingussie (on 3 and 4 October respectively) and feedback their concerns.
Transport Scotland recently published their detailed designs for upgrading the A9 beside Kingussie and Newtonmore to dual carriageway, along with maps showing the land which they intend to acquire using their compulsory purchase powers for the road works. The road proposals are accompanied by an Environmental Statement prepared by Transport Scotland on the predicted environmental impacts and the measures Transport Scotland is proposing to address those impacts.
The proposed dual carriageway cuts across the RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes Nature Reserve – an internationally important wetland area which is rich with wildlife. It will be built on a part of the reserve that is most important for a variety of wader bird species including lapwings, oystercatchers, redshanks and snipe, all of which have suffered significant population declines in recent years.
The proposed road scheme would result in the permanent loss of 5 football pitches worth of National Nature Reserve land, lost mainly underneath the footprint of the new road and its embankments. Added to this, a further 4 football pitches’ worth of the reserve land would be temporarily lost to the construction site to accommodate the construction activities and the associated diggers, cranes and other heavy machinery.
The effects of the road scheme on the reserve’s wildlife will extend far beyond the extent of the roadworks activities. The noise and activity associated with the A9 construction works, and the increased traffic flows and the imposing road structure once the road is completed, will cause many birds to keep their distance and not attempt to nest or feed within several hundred metres of the road site.
Transport Scotland has bought an area of land (‘Dellmore’) near Insh Marshes and proposes to convert some of this to wet grassland habitat to accommodate the wader bird species from Insh Marshes that will be made homeless. Whilst RSPB Scotland welcomes this intention, it will be challenging to successfully convert this land to suitable wetland habitat for the waders, and maintain it as such over the long-term. It is far from guaranteed that it will provide suitable habitat, and even if it does, the new habitat will not be big enough or suitable to rehome all of the waders that would be made homeless as a result of the dualling. Neither will it address other harm to wildlife caused by the road scheme.
Karen Birkby, RSPB Scotland’s site manager at Insh Marshes said, “We have continually made the case for protecting the exceptional wildlife of Insh Marshes, minimising harmful impacts, and maximising environmental benefits, such as enhancing or providing suitable new habitat nearby, that the dualling project could bring. While we welcome the intention of converting some land at Dellmore to wet grassland, it is far from guaranteed that it will provide suitable habitat for all the wildlife affected.
“We understand the need for the dualling of the A9 but believe that it can be built in a way which minimises its impact on this wonderful area. We have suggested several ways in which Transport Scotland could do this but disappointingly, they are not proposing these measures in the latest plans, so there is a real risk that the road scheme will result in long-term harm to a variety of wildlife.
“We encourage local people to view the proposals online or attend the public exhibitions and raise their concerns before the deadline of 16th October.”
For more information, please visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-casework/casework/cases/a9-dualling/
To view Transport Scotland’s new proposals, please visit https://www.transport.gov.scot/publication/draft-orders-and-environmental-statement-crubenmore-to-kincraig-a9-dualling/