This section dealt with flora and fauna
Two experts from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht were present at the hearing. Dr David Tierney a wildlife ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service talked about the impact of the development on bird migration patters, particularly whooper swans. The swans tended to be found on wetland in parts of Co. Meath and some of their flight lines would go close to the proposed power lines.
Dr Tierney noted that in EirGrid’s respsonse to submissions, “grey coloured flight diverters are proposed as they will minimise potential additional visual impact impacts whilst increasing the visibility of the earth wire to flighting birds”. He said it seemed the choice of using grey diverters over yellow might have been made on aesthetic grounds, potentially compromising their efficacy in reducing bird deaths. It was difficult to understand that grey line markers offered more contrast than yellow ones especially in an Irish context of relatively mild wet winters.
He noted that along with bird distribution and flight activity surveys EirGrid proposed to undertake surveys of wintering waterbirds sites in the area along the route of the line. It would be useful if such data was regularly submitted to the Irish Wetland Bird Survey office, he said.
Apart from starting to acquire a standardised evidence base to quantify bird fatalities as a result of collision events with electric utility facilities across Ireland, which would inform the assessment of future developments, Dr Tierney said data collected from the proposed monitoring programme would need to be able to feedback into adapting, refining and increasing where necessary the suite mitigation measures aimed at minimising bird collision rates if this development was permitted.
Cliona O’Brien head of ecological assessment at the NPWS commented on an issue raised with EirGrid about what would happen if a badger sett was discovered at any of the tower construction sites. The hearing was informed that the company would then apply to the Department under the Wildlife Act for the necessary licence for any works during the construction period.
She also raised the subject of a previous ecological incident involving the construction of a 110kV electricity line by the ESB over bogland in County Donegal.
EirGrid’s response was that the line in question was constructed in quite challenging terrain consisting of deep peat that was completely different to that of the proposed North South interconnector. On the Donegal project an incident occurred during the lifting of bog mats which resulted in the top layer of soil being removed.
The company said it was now standard practice for an ecologist to oversee work on large transmission projects to ensure the construction and monitoring protocol was followed. In the case of the interconnector, EirGrid said the environmental officer would monitor construction to minimise impacts to bats, otters, kingfishers, badgers, whooper swans and other birds.