A long-term bird and wildlife survey on and around the site of a proposed new surface mine in south east Northumberland is set to draw to a close this month.
As part of developing its proposals for the planned Highthorn site, regional employer Banks Mining commissioned specialist North East ecological consultancy Argus Ecology and environmental consultants Wardell Armstrong to carry out a comprehensive survey of the area to quantify its use through the seasons by all forms of wildlife.
The survey has been ongoing since the winter of 2012, in order to provide a wide-ranging dataset that enables year-on-year comparisons to be made, and while the work has focused primarily on birds due to their predominance in the area, other forms of wildlife have been included too.
The Argus Ecology team also used a new environmental DNA method to test for the presence of newts during their time on site.
The final tranche of Argus’s survey work will take place this month, with reports on their findings and how local habitats could best be managed during the Highthorn project if it gets the go-ahead set to be included in the planning application that is expected to be submitted later this year.
The proposed Highthorn surface mining scheme would be located to the South East of the village of Widdrington, inland from Druridge Bay, and would run for between eight and ten years from the proposed start of operations in 2016 through to the completion of restoration. If the project goes ahead, any mining operations at Highthorn would take place several hundred yards away from the bay itself.
Kevin Honour, director at Argus Ecology, says: “The primary focus has been around geese and wading birds, which reflects priorities in the Druridge Bay area, but with many other species of fauna present in the area, we’ve also monitored their use of the areas in and around the Highthorn site.”
Chris Rogers, technical director at Wardell Armstrong, adds: “Gathering more than two years’ worth of data more than matches with the demands of the local planning authorities for this sort of survey work, and enables accurate, quantifiable data comparisons to be made for the same seasons in different years which can then be used to help identify the best way to both protect and enhance existing habitats and create new ones.”
Family-owned Banks Mining employs more than 200 people at its Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines near Cramlington, and its local operations contribute around £35m to the regional economy every year through wages, investments, business rates and the local supply chain.
A series of independently-chaired workshops that have been attended by over 250 people has been running since the start of the year to enable local people to meet with the Highthorn project team and to help shape the plans the team is developing.
Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, says: “As a major local employer that has worked in Northumberland for more than 30 years, we know this longstanding coal field area extremely well, and with its proximity to the popular beach and wildlife attractions at Druridge Bay, we understand that the Highthorn proposal is in a unique and sensitive location.
“The survey work that’s been undertaken over the last two and a half years provides a very clear and properly quantified picture of wildlife use of the area, as well as local habitats, and is helping us to develop appropriate plans to protect and enhance the area to maintain suitable habitats during operational work on the site, if it is granted planning permission.
“Discussions are also
continuing with a wide cross-section of conservation groups alongside the local community on the Highthorn project, to help ensure that we protect existing valuable habitats and explore opportunities to enhance the local environment and habitats, as well as provide improved facilities for visitors and tourists.
“The landscaping work we’ve carried out at and adjacent to over 100 operational and restored surface mine sites have won many awards for their excellence in terms of landscaping, environmental and sustainable development, and we are committed to maintaining these standards across the Highthorn scheme.
“We firmly believe that this site could offer real and lasting social, economic and environmental benefits for the surrounding area, as well as helping to sustain a significant number of jobs, and we will continue to keep local people informed of progress as our plans develop.”