A9 dualling at Insh Marshes

Tagged with: Open: Open Transport: Transport SAC: SAC SPA: SPA SSSI: SSSI
 Insh Marshes RSPB reserve, Loch Insh, 2000

Overview

Transport Scotland will be upgrading the A9 trunk road which passes through the RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes nature reserve and over the River Spey next to Kingussie in the Cairngorms National Park, to dual carriageway. Insh Marshes is a wetland of international importance providing home to a huge variety of wildlife. It is crucial that this area is protected and remains a special place for wildlife and people. In September 2018 Transport Scotland published its detailed proposals for the new dual carriageway here. RSPB Scotland is trying to ensure that the road construction works minimises damage to wildlife habitat, and that any unavoidable loss of habitats is offset by the provision or enhancement of similar habitats elsewhere.

Map

Why is it worth fighting for?

Insh Marshes reserve is a National Nature Reserve and an internationally important floodplain and wetland next to Kingussie in the Cairngorms National Park. Insh Marshes is home to breeding waders and wildfowl, ospreys, otters, a huge range of plants and invertebrates (many of which are rare and threatened) and, each winter, over 100 whooper swans. Part of the site is protected under international and national law for these species and habitats. The existing A9 road crosses the River Spey here, which is also of international importance for its Atlantic salmon, freshwater pearl mussel, sea lamprey and otter.

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

How you can help

You could write to or email Transport Scotland before 16 October 2018, objecting to the current proposals for the road scheme, on the grounds that the current proposals don’t include sufficient measures to prevent long-term harm to the birds and other wildlife of Insh Marshes and the surrounding area. Our concerns are discussed in more detail in the ‘Our Position’ section below, but key points we suggest you include are:

  • The proposed route and design of the road would result in long-term harm to the Insh Marshes National Nature Reserve and cause the loss of important wildlife habitat, including for several wading bird species of conservation concern.
  • The environmental statement underestimates the extent of habitat that will be lost and the number of birds that will be affected by the dualling, both during construction and once the dual carriageway is open for traffic.
  • Transport Scotland’s proposals for creating new areas of wildlife habitat (including at Dellmore of Kingussie) are insufficient to make up for the losses of habitat and wildlife caused by the dualling. Transport Scotland should propose and fund additional habitat improvement measures, above and beyond what they currently propose, to guarantee that nature does not lose out in the long term.

The consultation information and proposals can be seen on the Transport Scotland web site here. Comments and objections should be sent by email to: a9dualling@transport.gov.scot, or by post to Director of Major Transport Infrastructure Projects, Transport Scotland, Buchanan House, 58 Port Dundas Road, Glasgow, G4 0HF. Objections must be received by Transport Scotland by 16 October 2018.

You could also write to Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, who has overall responsibility for the A9 dualling programme (scottish.ministers@gov.scot). You could express concern that Transport Scotland is not proposing enough nature conservation measures (including provision of replacement habitat) as part of the dualling project to ensure that nature does not lose out as a result of the road scheme.

Snipe wading

Our position

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

We have had several meetings with Transport Scotland, their consultants and other public bodies including Scottish Natural Heritage and the Cairngorms National Park Authority to try to minimise negative impacts on the reserve, and maximise potential environmental benefits of the dualling project.

Transport Scotland considered several possible routes for the new dual carriageway, and all of the options presented cut across part of the Insh Marshes nature reserve, just as the existing A9 does. The geography and topography of the area means it is unrealistic to create a brand new route for the new dual carriageway that does not cross part of the reserve. So the dualling of this section of the A9 will inevitably cause some damage to the reserve. We believe that the most realistic and appropriate solution is to design the dual carriageway in a way that minimises such damage. This would involve widening to the immediate west of the existing single carriageway A9, and incorporating a bridge much longer than the existing bridge so that it forms a 'green and blue underpass' (similar to the 'green bridge' concept seen elsewhere). This option would affect less important wader habitat, reconnect floodplain habitats, have multiple benefits for the river and its wildlife, and reduce upstream flooding in Kingussie.

Despite the clear advantages of our suggestions, Transport Scotland have opted for a cheaper option which is to have an 'offline' dualling route with a relatively short bridge and with the new carriageway east of the existing road, on a separate embankment. This will be constructed on existing wetland on the reserve and would result in the loss of important habitats for waders such as lapwings, curlews, oystercatchers, redshanks and snipe, and for wildfowl. The reserve is currently a stronghold for these birds, many of which have suffered from massive population declines. For instance, survey results indicate that the lapwing population in the wider Badenoch and Strathspey area plummeted by more than half between 2000 and 2015 – only 492 pairs were recorded in the last survey. Redshank numbers declined by 45% to 199 pairs over the same period.

Transport Scotland have now published their detailed designs for this section of new 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 are proposing to address those impacts.

According to Transport Scotland’s calculations, the proposed road scheme would result in the permanent loss of the equivalent of five professional football pitches of habitat from the National Nature Reserve, or 143 tennis courts, lost mainly underneath the footprint of the new road and its embankments. Added to this, a further 4 football pitches worth of the reserve would be temporarily lost – covered by temporary tracks and the massive machinery required for the roadworks. This land would not be available for the waders to nest and feed on for a long period.

However, the effects of the dualling scheme will extend far beyond the footprint of the new road and the roadworks activities. Waders need large areas of undisturbed, open and relatively flat wetland, so that they know that predators such as foxes are not hiding nearby, ready to pounce on their vulnerable eggs or chicks. All of the noise and human activity associated with the road construction will cause the waders to keep well away from the construction site. Once the roadworks are complete and the dual carriageway opens for traffic, the increased traffic flows and the imposing road structure will deter many waders, which will avoid nesting and feeding within a much larger 'zone of avoidance' equivalent to the area of more than 50 football pitches. Many of the waders would not be able to simply move to other parts of the reserve, as the parts that are suitable habitat are already occupied by others.

Overall therefore, the dualling across Insh Marshes will significantly reduce the number of waders and other wildlife on the reserve and on other nearby areas of wetland.

The road construction may well affect a lot of other wildlife on the reserve and local area, including osprey, otters, whooper swan, water voles, wigeon, goldeneye and various rare invertebrates, and will cause loss of wetland plants such as ragged robin, greater butterfly orchid and marsh marigold. It would also be very visible to visitors to the reserve, from two of our hides.

We have continually made the case for protecting the exceptional wildlife of Insh Marshes and the surrounding area, minimising harmful impacts, and maximising environmental benefits (such as enhancing or providing new habitat nearby) that the dualling project brings with it. We have identified several ways in which Transport Scotland could do this, within the existing reserve and elsewhere. These include creating new nesting 'islands' on the reserve where the ground is currently too wet for ground nesting waders (the birds need just the right balance of wet and dry areas, for nesting and feeding); reprofiling old defunct embankments to create a more natural landform and open landscape favoured by the waders; and excavating 'scrapes' (shallow ponds with muddy edges) to provide extra feeding habitat. These measures would all create extra wildlife habitat, and study work that we have commissioned shows that they would not cause flood risk issues off the reserve, in fact they are expected to reduce flood risk upstream of the River Spey bridge. We have been encouraging Transport Scotland to explore these and other measures, but so far our suggestions have largely been disregarded.

Transport Scotland has bought an area of land (the 'Dellmore site') near Insh Marshes. It proposes to convert a large part of this land (plus a few small areas of nearby land elsewhere) to wet and marshy grassland habitat to rehome the waders 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 the waders, and maintain it as such over the long-term. It is therefore far from guaranteed that it will provide suitable habitat, and even if it does, the new habitat will not be big enough to rehome all of the birds that are predicted to be displaced as a result of the dualling. Transport Scotland also proposes to remove some of the existing A9 embankment and restore this land to wetland, but its closeness to the new dual carriageway severely limits its suitability as new bird habitat.

Transport Scotland are mostly relying on their proposals for the Dellmore site to provide new habitat to rehome the wildlife affected by the dualling. In doing so they are basically 'placing all their eggs in one basket' which is inappropriate given the challenges they will face to make this site suitable habitat. We believe that Transport Scotland’s proposals for replacement wildlife habitat are insufficient, and there is a real risk that the road scheme will result in long-term harm to a variety of wildlife. Transport Scotland should propose and fund additional habitat improvement measures, above and beyond what they currently propose, to guarantee that nature does not lose out in the long term.

 

Timeline

  • 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. Objections or comments regarding the proposals can be sent to Transport Scotland by 16 October at the latest.

  • 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