This was the largest project I worked on in 2017, a new water pipeline being installed over about ten miles in the Rhondda Fach.
Although much of the route of the pipe was in roads large parts followed a cycle track and other sections crossed open moorland. There were also three compounds to set up on former industrial sites that had been abandoned long enough to become wildlife habitat. Following the valley, the route also passed close enough to the river that potential impacts also had to be considered.
The pipe will run underground and all disturbed areas will be allowed to return to their previous semi-natural state. For this reason and because the working area would never be more than 20m wide, except at the compounds the County Ecologist decided that the usual approach of fencing areas to exclude wildlife would be inefficient and cause more disturbance than the pipeline. An alternative approach was developed by Spencer ECA to avoid impacts by making working areas unattractive for animals, particularly reptiles and I was involved in this.
The approach taken was to work in three stages, each preceded and followed by a careful search of the area for any animals.
Stage 1 was to cut all vegetation to around 15cm above ground level. This was done using strimmers and brush cutters where possible. Trees within the area were also felled and either stacked outside the working area or removed from site to be turned into woodchip.
Stage 2 was done either the following day or within a week and was a second cut of remaining vegetation as close to ground level as possible. This made the areas both easy to search and unattractive to wildlife due to the lack of cover and the noise of machinery provided a further encouragement to animals to move to the extensive areas of good habitat nearby.
Stage 3 was the final stage requiring an ecologist and was clearing the top few inches of topsoil. This eliminated any remaining hiding places, including buried hollows that might be used for hibernation. Buried rocks and wood found were used to build new hibernation sites outside the working area so there was no overall loss of places for animals to spend the winter.
As planned most animals will have left the site of their own accord as it became less attractive but some were found a relocated by hand. These included slow worms and common lizards as well as a large number of frogs and toads and some field voles.
During all of this I also had to consider the potential for soil to be washed into the river, the chance of birds nests in trees along the route and consider the requirements of the engineering and other concerns like archaeology and public access.
The exact work programme and working areas had to be amended several times as circumstances changed but despite this I was able to hand over the site confident that everything had been done to protect the local wildlife.