3. Stage 2 Appropriate Assessment

closeddate_range12 Dec, 2014, 12:00am - 6 Feb, 2015, 12:00am

Section 3      Stage 2 Appropriate Assessment

3.1    Introduction

The main objective of this stage (Stage 2) in the AA is to determine whether the proposed Amendment to the Plan would result in significant adverse impacts to the integrity of any European site with respect to the site’s structure, function and/or conservation objectives.

The Stage 1 Screening presented above has identified one site, the River Barrow and River Nore cSAC, with potential to be affected by Proposed Amendment No. 2 to the Callan LAP. Therefore, a Stage 2 Appropriate Assessment AA is required. The potential adverse effects considered at this stage will either be effects occurring as a result of the application of the Amendment to the Plan alone or in-combination with other plans, programmes and/or projects.

The qualifying features and the main threats to the site are listed in Table 1 above. Detailed information relevant to the site that has been reviewed to inform the appropriate assessment includes the following information available from the National Parks and Wildlife Service:

  • NPWS Site Synopsis
  • Natura 2000 Standard Data Form
  • Detailed Conservation Objectives and supporting documents

A report of a recent ecological survey of the Proposed Amendment lands at Westcourt undertaken by Blackthorn Ecology (2014)[3] was also considered.

The River Barrow and River Nore cSAC which may be adversely affected through the implementation of the proposed Amendment consists mostly of the freshwater stretches of the Barrow / Nore River catchments. The River Barrow flows southwards just west of the lands which are the subject of the Proposed Amendment. The designated area includes lands either side of the main river channel including some of the lands which are the subject to potential impacts from the proposed Amendment as shown in Figure 3 above.

The cSAC is designated for a wide range of both terrestrial and aquatic species and habitats as listed in Table 1. Following a review of the detailed site conservation objectives and associated supporting documents it is concluded that those listed habitats and species most likely to occur in proximity to the Plan Area include; Floating River Vegetation, White Clawed Crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), Salmon (Salmo salar), Otter (Lutra lutra), and River and Brook Lamprey (Lampetra planeri, Lampetra fluviatilis).

3.2    Potential Significant Effects

As outlined in the European Commission Environment DG document “Assessment of plans and projects significantly affecting Natura 2000 sites: Methodological guidance on the provisions of Article 6(3) and (4) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC”, impacts that could potentially occur through the implementation of the Proposed Amendment can be categorised under a number of headings:

  • Loss / reduction of habitat area (e.g. due to the development of new projects)
  • Disturbance to Key Species (e.g. increased public access to protected sites, or during the construction phase of infrastructure projects)
  • Habitat or species fragmentation
  • Reduction in species density
  • Changes in key indicators of conservation value such as decrease in water quality / quantity (e.g. through inadequate wastewater treatment, run-off of pollutants during construction and operation of developments)

The proposed Amendment concerns the extension of the existing LAP boundary to include lands for residential development. By facilitating future development within these lands there is potential for the following significant effects on the cSAC. A summary of the potential significant effects on the cSAC associated with developments on these lands is presented below.

3.2.1    Reduction of Habitat Area

Direct habitat loss is caused where there is complete removal of a habitat type. Habitat loss can also occur through the reduction of habitat quality and a loss of important habitat functions. It can arise from the introduction of invasive species, toxic contamination or physical alteration. Indirectly, it can be caused by significant hydrological alteration of water dependant habitats.

Direct habitat loss is not foreseen due to the implementation of the proposed Amendment as the lands in question are located outside of the cSAC boundary. Furthermore, a habitat and green infrastructure survey of the lands in question has confirmed the absence of any Annex I habitats from within the boundary of the said lands (Blackthorn Ecology 2014)[4] and evaluated the site as being of overall low ecological importance. However, the connectivity present between the site and the adjacent cSAC provided by hedgerows, treelines, and a freshwater stream is highlighted.

The Proposed Amendment provides for the development of a pedestrian link to Callan town centre from the lands at Westcourt. The route of this link has not been set out and therefore it remains a possibility that it could traverse areas within the cSAC. In the event of the route passing through the cSAC, then such a development could lead to loss of habitat from within the designated site boundary.

3.2.2    Fragmentation

Habitat and species fragmentation can occur through the breaking up of or loss of habitats resulting in interference with existing ecological units. Fragmentation can also result from impediments to the natural movements of species. This is relevant where important corridors for movement or migration are likely to be disrupted such as along river corridors when construction introduces a barrier to the free movement of species from one area of habitat to another.

A recent habitats and green infrastructure survey[5] within the lands in question identified that there are no sensitive habitats within the proposed Amendment area. The survey did however identify that the lands are linked to the River Barrow and River Nore cSAC by hedgerows and treelines. Fragmentation could may potentially occur as a result of the implementation of the Proposed Amendment if these ecological features are not safeguarded. Hedgerows are important ecological corridors for bat and bird species. Bats are protected under the Wildlife Acts of 1976 to 2010 and are listed on Annex IV of the EU Habitats Directive for strict protection. The value of these features could be enhanced if appropriate measures are taken to improve their quality as recommended by Blackthorn Ecology (2014).

3.2.3   Disturbance to Key Species

Disturbance to species supported by a European site is likely to increase where there is an increase in activity levels from recreation and amenity or from developments within or adjacent to sensitive designated areas. Sources of disturbance include noise, vibration, light, construction and operation activities or other sources of disturbance arising from recreation and amenity or from the inappropriate timing of works.

The proposed Amendment works are located adjacent to the River Barrow and River Nore cSAC, Otter are one of the qualifying interests of the cSAC are likely to occur along the corridor of the Kings River and associated semi-natural habitat to the south of the Amendment Lands. Otter are vulnerable to disturbance resulting from increased human activity along with the disturbance effects of construction related activities.

3.2.4   Changes in Key Indicators of Conservation Value

The key indicators of conservation value for the River Barrow and River Nore cSAC are water quality and quantity. Impacts on the cSAC may occur where the development occurs adjacent to or within the land zoned for cSAC designation. The Amendment lands occur adjacent to the cSAC and are hydrologically linked to the cSAC via a stream and drainage features to the south.

Development within the site could result in alterations to the hydrological regime or physical environment of the site through drainage, and / or discharges to watercourses. Surface water from the lands subject to the proposed Amendment is likely to naturally discharge to the stream along the western and southern boundary of the site. This stream in turn discharges directly into the King’s River which forms part of the River Barrow and River Barrow cSAC.

Aquatic species and habitats for which the cSAC is designated (and are likely to occur downstream of the Amendment Lands) that could be impacted by any significant deterioration in water quality include Floating River Vegetation, Otter (Lutra lutra), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), and White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes).

3.3    Conservation Objectives

The Habitats Directive requires the focus of the assessment at this stage to be on the integrity of the site as indicated by its Conservation Objectives. It is an aim of NPWS to draw up conservation management plans for all areas designated for nature conservation. These plans will, among other things, set clear objectives for the conservation of the features of interest within a site. In the case of the River Barrow and River Nore cSAC, while a conservation management plan has not yet been prepared, detailed conservation objectives have been published (NPWS 2011)[6].

These site‐specific conservation objectives aim to define favourable conservation condition for the qualifying habitats and species at that site. The maintenance of the favourable condition for these habitats and species at the site level will contribute to the overall maintenance of favourable conservation status of those habitats and species at a national level.

Favourable conservation status of a species can be described as being achieved when: ‘population data on the species concerned indicate that it is maintaining itself, and the natural range of the species is neither being reduced or likely to be reduced for the foreseeable future, and there is, and will probably continue to be, a sufficiently large habitat to maintain its populations on a long-term basis.’

Favourable conservation status of a habitat can be described as being achieved when: ‘its natural range, and area it covers within that range, is stable or increasing, and the ecological factors that are necessary for its long-term maintenance exist and are likely to continue to exist for the foreseeable future, and the conservation status of its typical species is favourable’.

The conservation objectives of each qualifying habitat and species for the River Barrow and River Nore cSAC are presented as a selection of attributes against which targets are set (NPWS 2011). All of these attributes in relation to each relevant feature have been considered in relation to the potential impacts associated with the Proposed Amendment outlined in Section 3.2 above.

Those species and habitats for which the cSAC is designated that are sensitive to potential impacts from the proposed Amendment, considering their known occurrence downstream (and proximate) to the lands in question include: Floating River Vegetation, River and Brook Lamprey (Lampetra planeri, Lampetra fluviatilis), Otter (Lutra lutra), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes). The potential for non-achievement of the conservation objectives relating to these qualifying features are discussed further below.

 

White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes)

Known to occur downstream of the Amendment Lands. The target set by NPWS in relation to distribution is that there should be no reduction from the baseline. The target relating to the attribute ‘water quality’ is that the Q Value as measured by the EPA should be at least Q3-4 at all sites sampled.

In the absence of mitigation, there is a possibility that downstream water quality could deteriorate due to contaminated surface water run-off from the proposed Amendment lands and therefore could threaten the achievement of the conservation objective relating to White-clawed Crayfish.

 

Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) (only in fresh water)

The target set by NPWS in relation to the attribute ‘distribution’ is that all rivers up to second order should be accessible from the estuary. The target relating to the attribute ‘water quality’ is that the Q Value as measured by the EPA should be at least Q4.

In the absence of mitigation, there is a risk that downstream water quality could deteriorate due to contaminated surface water run-off from the proposed Amendment lands and therefore could threaten the achievement of the conservation objective relating to Atlantic Salmon.

 

Otter (Lutra lutra)

The target set by NPWS in relation to the attribute ‘distribution’ is that there should be no significant decline and that it should be measured according to % of positive survey sites based on standard otter survey techniques. The target for the attribute ‘extent of the terrestrial habitat’ available to Otter should not suffer significant decline. This includes all habitats within 10m of the designated river-bank which is considered critical for Otter. Similarly in relation to the attribute ‘Couching sites and holts’ the target set is that there should be no significant decline.

In the absence of a defined route of the pedestrian link provided for by the proposed amendment there is a potential risk to Otter habitat and possible holt / couch sites within the cSAC and therefore this could contribute towards the conservation objective relating to otter not being achieved.

 

River and Brook Lamprey (Lampetra planeri, Lampetra fluviatilis)

Artificial barriers to the species that are present along watercourses present a major threat to their successful migration to up-stream spawning beds.

Based on the potential effects of the Proposed Amendment on the River Barrow and Nore cSAC, and taking into account the targets set for the various attributes for these species, it is considered extremely unlikely that the Proposed Amendment could impact on the conservation objective relating to River and Brook Lamprey.

 

 

Floating River Vegetation

The full distribution of this habitat within the cSAC remains unknown (NPWS 2011). However it is reported that there is an excellent example of the occurring vegetation community (nutrient‐rich type) associated with extensive tufa deposits on the river bed in the Kings tributary of the Nore. The conservation objective includes the following attributes that may be relevant to the future use of the proposed Amendment lands:

  • ‘hydrological regime (river flow)’, the target for which is that an appropriate regime be maintained
  • ‘water quality (suspended sediment & nutrients)’, the targets for which is that concentrations in the water column should be sufficiently low to prevent changes in species composition or habitat condition

In the absence of mitigation, there is a risk that downstream water quality could deteriorate due to contaminated surface water run-off from the proposed Amendment lands and therefore could threaten the achievement of the conservation objective relating to Atlantic Salmon.