A9 dualling at Insh Marshes - Closed Case

Tagged with: Casework status: Closed Casework type: Transport Site designations: SAC Site designations: SPA Site designations: SSSI
 Insh Marshes RSPB reserve, Loch Insh, 2000

Overview

The Scottish Government has committed to making the whole of the A9 road between Perth and Inverness a dual carriageway and this is being carried out by Transport Scotland. The upgrading includes a section of the A9 (Crubenmore and Kincraig) which crosses the River Spey and passes through the RSPB's Insh Marshes nature reserve next to Kingussie, in the Cairngorms National Park. Much of our reserve is designated as a National Nature Reserve and is part of the wider Insh Marshes wetland, which is of international importance as it provides home to a huge variety of wildlife.

In September 2018 Transport Scotland published its detailed proposals for this section of the new dual carriageway. RSPB Scotland had serious concerns about the impacts of the proposed development on the species and habitats at Insh Marshes, both on and around our reserve. We also had concerns over the effects the development could have on our ability to manage our reserve and on visitor's experience of it. Although we did not object to the dualling of the road, we did object to the proposals for this section because of these outstanding concerns.

We believe that Transport Scotland needed to do more to ensure that these issues were addressed and nature did not lose out. RSPB Scotland has continued to discuss our concerns with Transport Scotland. As a result of these discussions we were able to withdraw our objection in December 2020, following additional information and reassurances to address our concerns, including commitments to fund additional studies and habitat improvement works on Insh Marshes Reserve to benefit wading birds, ensuring the reserve can be managed during construction and that mitigation will be developed further to minimise impacts on birds on and around the reserve.

Outcome

Following extensive discussions with Transport Scotland to address our concerns, and additional habitat improvement and species protection measures being secured, we withdrew our objection to the proposals in December 2020. We will continue to work closely with Transport Scotland to ensure that the measures we agreed to are implemented in the lead up to, during and after the construction of this section of road.

The proposals can be seen on the Transport Scotland web site here.

Map

Why is it worth fighting for?

Insh Marshes reserve includes a National Nature Reserve and is an internationally important floodplain and wetland. It is home to breeding birds including curlews, lapwings, oystercatchers wigeons and ospreys. A huge range of plants and invertebrates, many of which are rare and threatened, are found on the site. This is also an important habitat for visiting birds, with over 100 whooper swans using the site each winter. Most of the reserve is protected under international and national law for these species and habitats. The existing A9 road crosses the River Spey, which is of international importance for its Atlantic salmon, freshwater pearl mussels, sea lamprey and otters.

Thousands of people visit and enjoy Insh Marshes each year and it offers an outdoor classroom for school children to learn about their environment. It is crucial that Insh Marshes remains a special place for both wildlife and people.

Snipe wading

Our position

Insh Marshes is an internationally important floodplain with exceptional wildlife. Given the area's conservation importance, we had major concerns about the potential environmental harm that the dualling project through Insh Marshes could cause.

Transport Scotland proposes to compulsory purchase around 12.98ha of land which RSPB Scotland owns or occupies at Insh Marshes. Of this, about five hectares will be permanently lost to construct the new road. Further areas of the reserve would be temporarily lost during construction, covered by temporary tracks, the machinery and structures required for the roadworks. This land will not be available for the wading birds such as curlews, oystercatchers and redshanks to nest and feed on for a long period.

However, the effects of the dualling scheme would extend far beyond the footprint of the new road and the construction activities. These types of wading birds need large areas of undisturbed, open and relatively flat wetland, so that they can watch out for predators such as foxes, which might be hiding nearby. All of the noise and human activity associated with the road construction will cause these birds to keep well away from the construction site. Once the roadworks are complete and the dual carriageway opens for traffic, the imposing road structure will deter many wading birds, such as curlews, snipe, oystercatchers, and lapwings, which will avoid nesting and feeding within a much larger 'zone of avoidance'. Many of these birds would not be able to simply move to other parts of the reserve, as the parts that are suitable habitat are likely to be already occupied by others.

Transport Scotland has bought an area of land (the 'Dellmore site') near Insh Marshes. It proposes to convert a large part of this land to wet and marshy grassland habitat to rehome the birds that will be 'displaced' from Insh Marshes. Whilst we welcome this intention, it will be challenging to successfully convert this land to suitable wetland habitat for these wading birds and maintain it as such over the long-term. Therefore, it is far from guaranteed that it will provide suitable habitat, and even if it does, the new habitat will not be big enough to rehome the numbers of the different types of birds that are predicted to be displaced as a result of the dualling.

Since 2015 we have had numerous meetings with Transport Scotland, their consultants and other public bodies including Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot) and the Cairngorms National Park Authority to try to minimise negative impacts on the reserve and maximise potential environmental benefits of the dualling project.

In October 2018 Transport Scotland published their detailed design for this section of the dualling works (Crubenmore to Kincraig). RSPB Scotland lodged a formal letter of objection on a number of grounds, although we did not object to the overall road improvement works.

In summary our objection related to:

  • Impacts on wildlife, particularly wading birds like oystercatchers and curlews, which would be affected by the works. We asked for additional habitat improvement measures to guarantee that nature does not lose out in the long term.
  • Lack of appropriate mitigation measures to minimise the impact on visitor experience at Insh Marshes.
  • Lack of assurance and detail regarding access to the remaining RSPB Scotland reserve at Insh Marshes. Without adequate access, the reserve cannot be effectively managed for nature which could lead to further species loss.

RSPB Scotland continued to try to work with Transport Scotland since our objection was submitted in the hope of resolving our concerns without the need to take part in a costly inquiry process. However, in January 2020 Transport Scotland formally requested that all unresolved issues be considered by Scottish Ministers at a Public Inquiry. This was expected to take place in Spring 2021. As before, RSPB Scotland continued to try to work with Transport Scotland to find a resolution, and in December 2020 we were able to withdraw our objections having reached sufficient agreements to ensure the best possible outcome for nature.

In summary, we were able to withdraw our objection for the following reasons:

  • Assurances that we will be able to manage Insh Marshes Reserve during and after construction, for instance by ensuring we have access for grazing ponies;
  • A commitment from Transport Scotland that they will fund additional studies and habitat improvement works on Insh Marshes Reserve to benefit wading birds;
  • Further information on all the mitigation measures they are putting in place to reduce impacts on birds during construction, including those to protect nationally and internationally designated sites;
  • A commitment to involve RSPB Scotland (as well as NatureScot, SEPA and Cairngorms National Park Authority) in future discussions on areas where we have knowledge and expertise, such as habitat improvement at Dellmore and measures to protect birds;
  • Commitment from Transport Scotland for additional signage and benches to be provided on the Reserve to enhance visitor experience.

Timeline

  • 24 December 2020
    Transport Scotland addressed the outstanding objection points so that RSPB Scotland was able to withdraw our objection.

  • 29 January 2020
    Transport Scotland wrote to the Scottish Government Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) asking for a public local inquiry to be held as there are outstanding objections for this section of the A9 dualling.

  • 4 July 2019
    RSPB Scotland respond to Transport Scotland outlining our outstanding objection points, and some elements that we are prepared to drop as a result of additional information provided by Transport Scotland. We request a series of meetings with Transport Scotland to try to resolve some of the outstanding issues.

  • 5 March 2019
    RSPB Scotland receives a response from Transport Scotland, providing comments on our objection points. Unfortunately, the response from Transport Scotland was disappointing and did not allay our concerns regarding impacts on the reserve and its priority species.

  • 16 October 2018
    RSPB Scotland lodges a formal objection to the draft Orders for this section of dualling, raising concerns in relation to impacts on the wildlife of Insh Marshes and the surrounding area, and impacts on visitors’ enjoyment of, and the management of, the reserve. We highlight additional measures that Transport Scotland should propose and fund in order to address these concerns.

  • 3 & 4 October 2018
    Transport Scotland hold public exhibitions in nearby Newtonmore and Kingussie, where the public could view the plans of the proposed road scheme. Details of the public exhibitions can be found here.

  • 4 September 2018
    Transport Scotland publish the draft Orders and Environmental Statement for this section of dualling. These can be viewed on the Transport Scotland web site here. They set out the detailed design of the dual carriageway and associated environmental mitigation measures, and the land (including on the Insh Marshes reserve) that the Scottish Ministers propose to acquire using their compulsory purchase powers, to construct the road scheme.

  • 17 & 18 April 2018
    Transport Scotland host public exhibitions in Kingussie and Newtonmore and begin a public consultation on the design development of the proposed route, including the latest plans for the bridge across the River Spey.

  • May 2017
    We formally respond to the public consultation on the 'preferred route'. In our response we highlight our serious concerns regarding the option being taken forward, and encourage Transport Scotland to redesign the bridge so that it is as long as possible for environmental benefits. We also highlight the crucial need for Transport Scotland to minimise environmental harm and compensate for any unavoidable negative impacts – potentially by creating new, or enhancing, habitat nearby.

  • 8 & 9 March 2017
    Transport Scotland announces and consults the public on their chosen ‘preferred route’ for the section of dualling through Insh Marshes. This is an 'offline' dualling route with a relatively short bridge, and with a new southbound carriageway east of the existing road, on a separate embankment – on part of the Insh Marshes reserve which is particularly important for waders. We are very concerned that the preferred route shows a relatively short bridge, and make clear to Transport Scotland what impact this would have on Insh Marshes.

  • February 2016 - April 2018
    Ongoing discussion (including several meetings) between Transport Scotland and RSPB Scotland regarding the design and assessment of the dualling proposals.

  • January 2016
    RSPB Scotland responds to the route options public consultation. Our strong preference is that the existing bridge over the River Spey should be replaced by a much longer and open bridge, and that any road works should be to the northwest side of the existing road. We also highlight the many potential impacts on wildlife that Transport Scotland has to consider in designing the road works.

  • November 2015
    Transport Scotland begins a public consultation on route options for the Crubenmore to Kincraig section of A9 dualling. For the section of road that goes through Insh Marshes, the options presented include widening to the west or east of the existing road, or building a separate 'offline' southbound carriageway to the east of the existing road.

  • November 2015
    RSPB Scotland writes to Keith Brown (Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities) highlighting the importance of Insh Marshes, and the possibility of upgrading the road and providing improvements for wildlife.

  • 2012 - 2014
    Transport Scotland carries out strategic studies to identify engineering and environmental constraints, risks and opportunities associated with dualling the entire length of A9 between Perth and Inverness. These result in a decision that the dualling would generally follow the route of the existing A9 (within approximately 100m either side of the existing road).

  • December 2011
    Scottish Ministers confirm a commitment to upgrade the A9 between Perth and Inverness to full dual carriageway by 2025 as part of their Infrastructure Investment Plan.

  • 2008
    The Scottish Government's Strategic Transport Projects Review sets out the future investment programme for transport in Scotland over two decades, including the proposed dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness.

Further reading