Defending Hinkley’s biodiversity

As well as housing a nuclear power station, Hinkley Point is a place for wildlife, with a variety of nature trails. How will expansion affect these habitats, and the animals that call them home?

In 2011, Hinkley Point B won the Wildlife Trust’s “Biodiversity Benchmark”, as a recognition of EDF Energy’s management of the site.

Hinkley Point has a variety of habitats, including grasslands, scrub, woodlands and ponds. It is located on the coastline of Bridgwater Bay, designated as a site of specific scientific interest since the late 1980s.

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The Somerset Wildlife Trust has itself claimed that the Trust is not against nuclear development. In the planning meeting for the expansion, Michelle Osbourne of the Somerset Wildlife Trust is reported to state that “The environmental impact assessment process has been reasonably robust although undervalues species and habitats and uses language inconsistently.

“The development would have an adverse residual affect for species and habitats, even with the conditions and obligations. The Trust was concerned about the time for the clearance of the site and the reinstatement (with a lag time between impact and mitigation), which would have a significant impact on many species.”

The current site at Hinkley Point B has achieved Biodiversity Benchmark status with the Wildlife Trusts, as well as EDF Energy sites at Sizewell B in Suffolk and Hartlepool. A statement by the firm says: “We are pleased to have received the Biodiversity Benchmark at three of our sites and are continuing work to achieve it across the fleet. The Benchmark is recognition of the work by everyone involved including staff, wardens, volunteers and conservation partners.”

EDF are adamant that their reactor will have a negligible effect on the wildlife in the local area over the lifetime of the plant. They¬†claim that: “The potential radiological effect on wildlife habitats was considered by modelling the impact of discharges on habitats in the vicinity of the power station. In all cases the dose was calculated to be negligible and well below the Environment Agency’s wildlife dose limits.

“The modelling and assessment of the proposed discharges of radioactivity from Hinkley Point C all show that, when judged against the stringent internationally agreed criteria for radiological protection, the impacts on people and wildlife are negligible and any dose impact is dwarfed by the contribution from natural radioactivity.”

EDF do recognise that they will be destroying habitats in the area. The report reads that: “Part of the Hinkley Point C Development Site comprises the Hinkley County Wildlife Site (CWS), which is considered to be of regional or county importance. It consists of a network of species rich scrub, coastal grassland and broad-leaved woodland with ponds and areas of improved grassland.

“Approximately 68% of this site will be lost to power station construction.”

However, they have made an attempt to safeguard habitats and plants in the area. The report says: “the plant layout has been designed such that there will be no land take from the mosaic of habitats to the east of Wick Moor Drove. This will enable much of the botanical interest of the Hinkley CWS to be retained including all reed bed, the majority of the scrub and a large proportion of the more botanically diverse grassland. To mitigate the habitat loss, a mosaic of habitats will be created.”

“The most potentially significant effect on these habitats, which are outside the Development Site (except for the construction of the cooling water culverts and temporary jetty), is disturbance to the internationally and nationally important numbers of birds that feed and roost in the area, both overwinter and on migratory passage.”

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In order to minimise the effect that construction will have on birds, EDF Energy claim that they will avoid noisy activities at night, such as piling works and foundation excavation, as well as ensuring that the jetty at the site is constantly lit, with directional lighting limiting light spill. They claim that this will allow birds to become habituated to the lighting at the site, rather than to be disturbed whenever it is turned on or off.

Studies and investigations at the site have determined that there is a very low likelihood of significant contamination across the majority of the site, with an exception in the eastern part of the site, where a number of areas of hydrocarbon contamination were found, as well as a small number of areas where asbestos contaminated materials have been buried.

EDF state that: “To mitigate the risk from this localised contamination further work will be carried out to identify the precise locations of any asbestos contaminated materials and the sources of other contaminants, so that they may be removed prior to the construction works starting.

“On the basis of this mitigation, and the studies and investigations undertaken to date, it is considered that the potential risk of harm to people and wildlife as a result of exposure to contaminants during the construction period is negligible to minor.”

 

The fight against expansion – Stop Hinkley

Not all people are supportive of nuclear expansion taking place in the South West. Some feel that, following the disaster in Japan at Fukushima in 2011, nuclear expansion should be halted, and safer, more environmentally-friendly energy sources should be embraced.

“Stop Hinkley” is the most prominent protest group against the expansion and continuing operation of the Nuclear Power station at Hinkley Point. It was founded in the 1980s, to protest against a new reactor that was to be known as Hinkley C. Thanks in part to their campaigning, the reactor was shelved in 1996. Furthermore, in 1999, thanks to continuous campaigning, Hinkley A was closed, citing that the station had lost its credibility.

Nikki Clark, spokesperson for the organisation, feels that the reasons for opposing the expansion at Hinkley Point cannot be explained simply. She said: “There isn’t just one reason. People oppose nuclear power for all sorts of reasons, from environmental ones to issues of safety.”

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Stop Hinkley published an ecological assessment of the site in 2011. In their assessment, they conclude that EDF Energy have not done enough to protect the environment in the area of the build. It says: “As an example of this nowhere in the application is the total biodiversity loss clearly stated. Baseline ecological data for many major groups are missing. Notable omissions are those for small mammals, bryophytes, lichens, fungi and soil arthropods.

“How can EDF demonstrate that there has been no net loss in biodiversity under Planning Policy Statement 9 (PPS9) if baseline data has not first been established?”

The site is adjacent to the Severn Estuary Special Area of Conservation, the Severn Estuary Special Protection Area and the Severn Estuary Ramsar site, as well as adjoining the Bridgwater bay Site of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserve. Therefore, Stop Hinkley claims that the biodiversity and habitats in the area need more protections than EDF have been giving them.

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The organisation feels that the impact on wildlife at the site are based on guesswork, and that EDF has not truly assessed the ecological impact that their construction will have on the area. They found no evidence that a Habitat Regulation Assessment had been done. They claim that the assessment of Hinkley Point’s environmental impact does not follow good practice guidelines.

The report further states the effect that expansion would have on the environment at the site. It says: “Habitat destruction within the proposed site will be almost total. All plant communities above ground will be removed and all available habitats to animals lost for many years.”

It continues: “Without more ecological data it is difficult to see how EDF have applied the principles of sustainable development to the proposed development site. Avoidance, minimisation, mitigation and compensation for ecological impacts are made difficult without appropriate ecological data to inform the process. Habitat creation is a challenging process at the best of times, but is almost impossible if you lack a full understanding of the species composition and relative abundance of a site in the first place.”

Overall, Stop Hinkley criticises EDF Energy for their proposal. They state: “Stop Hinkley is in strong agreement with Somerset Wildlife Trust, which says that ‘biodiversity is declining rapidly in the UK, as elsewhere in the world. It is of paramount importance that development benefits wildlife, rather than contributing to its ongoing losses’.

“EDF have failed to present a proposal that reflects their stated ‘environmental responsibility’ and are driving forward an application which exacerbates the local trend of wildlife decline.”

Nikki Clark also feels that the development will not benefit the local community in the way that EDF claim. She said: “They’re not going to get jobs locally. People are going to come from further afield to work on the site. And, with the nuclear development, I can’t see that many people wanting to holiday here.”

However, she is optimistic about the fight against Hinkley Point C, in particular due to the inquiry by the European Commission over the legality of the deal between EDF and the UK government. She said: “I can’t see EDF making a decision until this legal decision has been made. Nothing is going ahead right now, not until the Commission comes to a decision. EDF aren’t going to invest money into this until they are sure they can make returns.”