Andrew Bluett and Mike Smart attended a briefing organised by Homes and Communities Agency and the Forest of Dean District Council at the council offices in Coleford on Friday 9th May regarding further site investigation works to be carried out at the CNQ site over the next few weeks.
The geophysical engineering contractor and professional ecologists lined up, under the watchful eye of the promoter, Homes and Communities Agency, to give the presentation which illustrated and described archaeological and geophysical investigation works to be carried out.
The archaeological works are intended to locate and seek more detail on former industrial remains including tramways and the like in various areas;
The geophysical investigations are aimed at locating a high pressure gas main that crosses the site, the route and details of which are apparently completely unknown, the detail of the limits, depths etc. of the opencast excavations and any other physical difficulties under the proposed development areas. The means of carrying out the geophysical investigation will include the use of 4 – 6 “low impact” drilling rigs and a variety of testing methods on a number of pre-determined lines, primarily across the site around the lake and between it and the Newtown/Steam Mills settlement areas to discover the characteristics of the ground below.
The works are to be carried out under a “European Protected Species” licence granted last week because of the known presence of the European-protected Great Crested Newt, and will commence on Monday 12th May, lasting for approximately 6 weeks.
Ahead of any work to be carried out we were assured that ecologists (from TACP, Cardiff – “Our Vision is the Future”) going ahead of the machines on hands and knees would carry out a “fingertip search”. There will be resident ecologists on site throughout the duration of the works who will monitor all species that may be affected, specifically the Great Crested Newts, reptiles and ground nesting birds. Species not specially protected like the Great Crested Newt would be subject to RAMs (Reasonable Avoidance Measures) which it was suggested would include 10 metre exclusion zones.
We were also advised that excavations would not in any single case last for more than a full working day, that spot boards and traffic mats would be placed to protect the ground and species under the working areas, that all spoil would be reinstated in the reverse order from which it is extracted and that there would be a full “audit trail” of documentation covering the ecological management protocol.
It was stated that ecological and archaeological information would be made public via the planning portal on the FoDDC web-site.
It is regrettable that this work is to be carried out at this time of year, in the midst of the breeding and reproductive season for most of the species inhabiting the site. Andrew Bluett advised the meeting that there were ground nesting Tree Pipits in the work area last year and that it was likely to be so this spring. On Sunday 11th May a discussion with Rob Husbands and a site visit confirmed that there were at least two Tree Pipit nests on the site in 2013 and that two singing males are currently present along with at least two Chiff Chaffs and five Willow Warblers. We are of course also fully aware of the habitation by the various reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates across the area.
Andrew Bluett has postponed the next proposed GNS site visit to the 17th May so that any effects of the first weeks-worth of this work might be observed.
GNS will be considering the issues of the proposed land swap and the hybrid planning application over the next few days and in consultation with GWT will decide what comments we will make on both of these issues. We have received some information and comment already from specialists and will take these thoughts into account before making our own comments.