11 JANUARY 2024

Caledonia’s onshore survey campaign: Minimising impact through ecological studies

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The 2GW Caledonia project is set to make an important contribution to achieving the Scottish Government’s target of net zero emissions by 2045. In order to get the green power from the wind farm to the 2 million homes it can provide electricity to, additional onshore transmission infrastructure will be required.

Last year, Caledonia outlined proposals for onshore infrastructure that is mindful of the surrounding environment and communities. These plans included a broad cable route corridor, much wider than the route will physically be, to house the infrastructure.

The team is now carrying out ecological surveys that will be ongoing until summer, to help inform the design approach and to refine the corridor, with the aim of minimising potential environmental impacts as far as possible.

Over four months during the summer of 2023, Caledonia completed the first of two types of survey that will help inform the project’s onshore transmission infrastructure. The Phase 1 Habitat Survey is a broad-scale assessment of an area to identify and classify different habitat types. It provides a basis for more detailed studies, such as species-specific surveys, and helps provides an understanding of the ecological context of the cable corridor.

Ruaridh Danaher, Onshore Consents Manager, shares more about the survey work:

“The Phase 1 Survey involves a site walkover, where ecologists walk through the project area, mapping and recording the different habitat types, vegetation, land use and key landscape features. We then assign habitat types based on standard classifications to categorise habitats like woodlands, wetlands and grasslands.

“We also document any noteworthy ecological features such as water bodies, hedgerows and particularly diverse and high-quality habitats. The surveys also look for the presence of, and ability for habitats to support, notable or protected species.”

Having completed the Phase 1 habitat Survey, Caledonia is now conducting species-specific surveys to gather detailed information about the presence, abundance and distribution of particular plant and animal species.

Based on data from the Phase 1 Survey combined with existing knowledge and historical data, ecologists determine which species are likely to be present in the project area, with particular attention paid to protected species like amphibians, bats, birds, mammals, reptiles or plants.

“Specific survey methods are employed for each target species. For example, bat surveys may use ultrasonic detectors to record bat calls, while bird surveys could include visual observations. Many species are seasonal in their activities, so our surveys will be conducted during significant times of the year to capture breeding, roosting or foraging behaviours.”

These surveys are vital for identifying and mitigating potential impacts of onshore infrastructure works on habitats and species. Currently in the development phase, the project team is focused on preparing Caledonia’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as part of its planning application.

“The purpose of an EIA is to evaluate the potential impacts a project could have on the environment. Where these impacts are likely to cause significant effects, specific measures – known as mitigation measures – will be taken to reduce or remove such impacts both now, and longer term.

“We know Caledonia is also of significant interest to local communities and the team is committed to consulting extensively to ensure these views are taken onboard.

“Alongside the data gathered from surveys, the feedback received from the community will form the basis of the project’s EIA and onshore planning application, which we expect to submit in 2024.”

On current timelines, it is expected that Caledonia could produce power by 2030, providing clean, green electricity to around two million homes for up to 25 years.

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