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.”