The area nominated as a greenfield site for a nuclear power station is, in landscape terms, typical of this part of south-west Cumbria. Gently undulating grassland predominates between the sea and the start of the Lakeland fells. Trees are few, with none at the seaward end, and in general quite small trees further inland. Agriculture is much less intensive than typical of lowland England, giving a chance for wildflowers, rough grassland, and even some marshy wooded areas around the somewhat sheltered north-eastern edge.
The wildlife reflects the nature of the landscape, but it is too early to be able to present a proper list of species. What is known is rather piecemeal, and reflects the limited scope and abilities of those involved. But what is known is interesting, and moreover, worthy of preservation.
Birds – The most obvious wildlife presence is the birds. Just outside the site, near Kirksanton, there are sedge warblers, grasshopper warblers, herons, water rail and swans. Elsewhere, especially in the open meadows, there are skylarks, meadow pipits, lapwings and stone chats. Flying aloft, swifts, swallows and house martins have been seen. Whitethroats are present in the site, as are chiffchaffs, and expected species such as goldfinch, song thrush, blackbird, wren, house sparrow and magpie. Barn owls are also present. The above list is not complete, but it does give a good flavour. Other birds, such as Tawny and Little owls and raptor species, are offered good hunting opportunities across the open and rich wildlife habitats, and are known to have a local presence.
Flowers – These are obviously a feature of the area, but no proper catalogue has been done. To list any might imply the absence of others, so none will be listed here. But suffice it to say, there is a good variety, as one would expect from a relatively undisturbed maritime habitat.
Butterflies – As you would expect, woodland species are absent, but nonetheless there is a good spread. There was the expected invasion of Painted Lady butterflies, which was a noteworthy national occurrence. More normal resident species are: Small Tortoiseshell, Small Heath, Green-veined White, Meadow Brown, Wall Brown, Red Admiral, Small White, Gatekeeper, and Peacock. More unusual butterflies seen were the Common Blue, Small Copper and Dark Green Fritillary.
Ferns – The lane down to the sea has a good spread of ferns, including varieties of Male fern, Broad Buckler fern, Lady fern, Hard fern, Common Polypody, and possibly Western Polypody. There is one example, well hidden away, of a fern that has suffered from overzealous Victorian fern fanatics. The Royal Fern is now rare in the wild but more common in old fern gardens.
Bees – These are now in the national spotlight, due to the disease problems of honey bees, whilst habitat pressures have affected our nationally resident bumblebee species, which are in decline. Bumblebees and bees are one of those things in nature that we take for granted, but if they are not there, we all suffer from lack of plant pollination, and related food shortages.
Five of the “big six” common bumblebees are resident, plus one “cuckoo” bumblebee species. The Garden Bumblebee is not present, but is normally related to woodland edge habitats. More intriguingly, there are rare species about in coastal west Cumbria, but some have not been reported for a few years, and may have become locally extinct. This includes the very rare Moss Carder Bee, and the slightly less rare Broken-Belted Bumblebee, which was reported from a location a few miles up the coast. The nationally rare Blaeberry Bumblebee lives in the Black Combe area and does come down to the lowlands in search of flowers at times. It has been seen only a mile or so away in the Silecroft area. Another bumblebee that is rare but “locally widespread” in Britain, but mainly confined to northern Scotland and the heathlands of the south-east and south of England, is the Heath Bumblebee. It has been seen at two places in the nearby Whicham Valley. It is actually very rare in Cumbria and it has only been noted at just a handful of sites across the county. This bumblebee is a likely candidate for a presence within the site, but frustratingly, it is small, not easy to identify, and probably will be present only in low numbers.
Bumblebees are good indicators of biodiversity. More species implies a richer and more diverse spectrum of wildlife, and as they tend to exist at the landscape level, are therefore indicators of a wider local biodiversity. The fact that at least 11, and possibly up to 13 species of bumblebee have been recorded from one location only a couple of miles from Kirksanton is key. It implies bumblebee richness at the top level, and by implication an excellent biodiversity in the area.
Mammals – Otters have made a comeback nationally, and within Cumbria they are now widespread, including in the Kirksanton Pool and Whicham Beck area. Roe deer have been observed regularly on Kirksanton Moss and are known to roam the local area.
Bats – These are another species afforded national protection in their own right, are not likely to reside within the actual nominated site, because of a lack of suitable roosting places – buildings and significant trees are almost absent. However they are likely to be present using feeding opportunities presented by insects, and the plentiful wetland habitats. The difficulty of confidently confirming identification of bats means that a species list cannot be drawn up. However, there is high confidence that Pipistrelle, Brown Long-eared and Noctule bats are present nearby, and there is the likelihood that at least two more species are in the general area, if not actually using the site for feeding.
Natterjack Toads – These are yet another nationally scarce and protected species. The Duddon and south west Cumbrian coast population of Natterjacks is the most important in the country, and the Kirksanton site is situated in the midst of major breeding populations. The toads are known to use the site itself and, importantly, the coastal strip and strand line as a wildlife corridor.
And finally – All wildlife does not recognise or respect our nature reserve boundaries. The edges of protected areas are just an administrative notion, which people need to respect, but the wildlife does not. The wildlife, whether protected species or not, will move around as they try to survive and breed. Ground-based species need wildlife corridors to move about in, and these are now seen as an essential aspect of species survival in this country. Blocking or even temporarily disrupting them causes real problems. Birds are not constrained by this, but some bird species are easily disturbed by human activity, and may well simply fly elsewhere, at the same time maybe disrupting their breeding cycle, with serious consequences for those rare bird species that use the estuary.
Dr Kate Willshaw, planning and policy officer for Cumbria Wildlife Trust, said: “Cumbria has been chosen to host three nuclear power stations. One, in particular, (Kirksanton) poses a threat to biodiversity as the site is next to the Lake District National Park boundary ……….. a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Specially Protected Area (SPA), Ramsar and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It also has at least three European Protected Species (EPS) – great crested newts and at least two species of bat are found in the area, and it is one of only 50 sites in the UK to host natterjack toads. It is also home to Wildlife & Countryside Act Species such as slowworms and common lizards, and is designated locally as a site of invertebrate interest. On top of all this it has Priority Habitats and Species, and is a County Wildlife Site.
“It is certainly as environmentally sensitive as Dungeness – which was omitted from the list. We have to ask the question: why is this site still included?
“The outcome of the first round of consultation identified Kirksanton as having received the greatest number of objections – on biodiversity, flooding and other issues – and yet it’s still in the running. This is utterly perverse.
“A nuclear power station on the Kirksanton site will devastate the natural environment.”