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.