The landscape form of the Kirksanton and Layriggs area, in its current state, is still largely the result of glaciation. Basic landform at the mouth of the Whicham Valley shows that ice and melt water spilled southwards forming the typical flat-bottomed valley mouth and depressed land, which currently carries the catchments run off from the surrounding fells to the North and South.
The immediate surrounding fells to the North and South are Swinside Fell 456m, Greystones 391m, Knott Hill 281m, White Combe 415m, Low Scales 150m, Lacra 140m and the Black Combe massif at 600m.
The run off water collectively flows south into Kirksanton Pool with less than 8m of head before reaching the sea at Haverigg.
The landmass, causing the river to flow south, formed as the glacial moraine of shales, sands and clay silts which were deposited by the melting ice. This landmass made an effective barrier against the then rising sea levels. The west facing landmass now supports a system of dune and low agricultural impacted sand slacks, the highest spot height being 18m.
Soil types – These vary across the proposed Layriggs site and surrounding area. The majority being low lying land to the eastern boundary, consists of alluvial clay silt deposits over clay shale with wetter areas topped with thin peat looms, whilst the adjoining, Kirksanton Moss indicates natural wetland of Phragmites reeds and sedges, with the oldest areas now dense willow scrub. Agricultural land within the low lying areas of the site currently consisting of permanent pasture, is being lost through rising water levels indicated by hard rush (Juncus) encroaching further annually into Layriggs land and that of the established non-native, drowning, woodland. This area is true flood plain; an indication of its importance has been emphasised by the recent high rainfall in West Cumbria.
Habitats – It is noted that the combination of wet and dry habitats to be found on this narrow site and the moorland leading to the seashore supports a unique ecosystem. In the space of less than a mile the area is dominated by a mixed sedge/rush and grass scapes divided by diverse ancient established mixed bank and ditch hedgerows supporting wildflowers, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds.
The small remaining woodlands of native species trees stunted by the environmental conditions and remnants of much larger woodland complete the diversity of habitats. Due to the age of these trees it may not be possible to use species as landscape screening.
Mitigation – It is clear that implied mitigation of raising the land within the proposed development area and protection with hard defences will displace sufficient water to seriously threaten the villages of Kirksanton and Haverigg and also the acres of farmland between. Current climate change predictions coupled with anticipated sea level rise will effectively mean Kirksanton Pool may also be affected tidally within a decade therefore affecting upstream land and properties.
To the west of the site, on the seaward boundary, steep gale-profiled shingle gives way to marram grass sand dune and dune slacks. Several ‘issues’ (natural springs) supplying ephemeral pools, initiated on the rough agricultural pastureland flow out to sea via the dune slacks. This area includes sites of national and international protection status.
This western edge of the site appears as a ridgeline of sandy thin loam giving way to sandy clays. The entire site is divided into small field systems by a bank and hedge system. In the lowland these are accompanied by open ditch systems. The ecology of this site owes much of its biodiversity to the surrounding area i.e. otters, ravens and peregrines from Black Combe and Whicham Valley forage the shore line and river course, conversely waders and shoreline amphibians use the ephemeral pools, marshland and mountain tops to forage and/or breed.
Migration – The annual migration route for species following the coast to and from breeding and wintering grounds is even more impressive across the site North to South and vice versa. It is difficult to survey comprehensively as species and numbers vary wildly season to season. In spring and autumn the ancient mixed hedgerows are saturated with finches, warblers, buntings – passerines of all description, some transient and breeding which attract the hawks, falcons, owls and other raptors. This bottleneck of land squeezed between the Black Combe massif and the sea has one of the highest concentrations in avian wildlife on the west coast – an avian super high way!
Development for the proposed area will undoubtedly destroy this high status habitat area. It has taken natural species of hedgerows decades to grow to a wind sculpted 2m and pines 60 years to reach 8m. Replacement landscape planting required for any screening would of necessity include alien species. Unsupportive ecologically, these plantings would stand out un-naturally in the landscape. Is this the ‘strong new landscape’? Are we to also suppose that the proposed ‘natural lakes’ are to be informally shaped, richly toxic, cooling ponds built in unnatural situations to avoid flooding?
Due to the elevation of surrounding land this proposed facility cannot be effectively screened visually without containment in earthworks and replacement natural landscape planting restored. Landscape and ecological issues will be far reaching once proposed infrastructure detail is included.
In conclusion, full ecological survey will highlight the exceptional biodiversity of the site with national and international interest. Full geological surveys will show the unsuitability of the site for development due to the affecting infrastructure.