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 and easier 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, oystercatchers, redshanks and snipe, and for wildfowl. The road construction will also cause loss of wetland plants such as ragged robin, greater butterfly orchid and marsh marigold; will fail to fully reconnect the floodplain and the river; and will fail to address the collision risk to wildlife, in particular otter, posed by the road. It will not deliver the same benefits for the river as a much longer bridge would; and will only partially address flooding problems.
We are proud of our longstanding close relationship with the local community of Kingussie regarding our management of Insh Marshes. This continues as we consider how the dualling can bring about benefits for both people and wildlife.
As the proposals move forward we will continue to make the case for protecting the exceptional wildlife of Insh Marshes, 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. These include creating new nesting 'islands' where the ground is currently too wet for ground nesting waders; reprofiling embankments to create a more natural landform and open landscape favoured by the waders; and the excavating of scrapes (shallow ponds with muddy edges) to provide extra feeding habitat. These measures would all create extra wildlife habitat, and study work 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 bridge. These and other measures should be explored by Transport Scotland.