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  • Francis Williams, Enviromental Project Manager

Building on success – Thurso South one year on

It has been almost a year since we submitted the BIG Biodiversity Challenge application for our Thurso South substation, and it is a good time to take stock of progress since then.

After winning the prize of 200m2 of earth kindly donated by Wildflower Turf Ltd, we have been working towards finding a suitable use. As a team we were very keen on making sure we provided a focused and sustainable legacy, allowing the local community to benefit. This took some time, but we now have an agreement in place with the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso to use the earth to extend and improve an existing area of wildflower meadow for which they have an existing maintenance contractor in place. We can be confident that the new meadow will be well looked after.

The Bumble Bee Conservation Trust (BBCT) have been invaluable not only by acting as a mediator to find a suitable local site but also providing expert advice on the seed mix. For example, I had no idea that there was a distinct subspecies of kidney vetch in Caithness. So, we had to remove this from the earth mix to avoid introducing an ‘non-native’ species. Once established (planned for September this year), the meadow will be used by students of the ERI as well as school children for scientific projects. The site will also be another patch of top-quality habitat for the Great Yellow Bumblebee, adding to the growing mosaic of sites near Thurso.

Back at Thurso we have engaged BBCT to carry out monitoring of the habitat and the pollinators. Initial results suggest that the habitat is maturing well, and the yellow rattle has really helped keep down the grasses. We finally enjoyed some warmer weather at the beginning of June and together with some rain the wildflowers have really started to flourish. It was hoped that the local farmer was going to graze the area, however this has not been possible. Despite this it appears that rabbits and deer seem to be helping out with eating the grass, whilst not damaging the trees too much. The monitoring by the BBCT will be instrumental in informing future management requirements.

Whilst it has been satisfying to see the habitat develop at Thurso South and to be able to effectively donate the prize, our success at last years event has inspired other projects to take the Challenge. This year, 3 applications have been made in a number of categories. These are from our substation developments in the north of Scotland which have provided habitats and wetlands for dragonflies. Similar to Thurso South these developments have focused on collaborative working with external stakeholders to deliver sustainable biodiversity gains.

Beyond the CIRIA BIG Biodiversity Challenge, we have been working hard on developing our approach to Biodiversity Net Gain to better assess and account for the biodiversity improvements in our projects. Crucial to this is building biodiversity into our development processes and ensuring it is considered throughout the project lifecycle. Recently we have published a consultation document on our approach to implementing Biodiversity Net Gain.

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