Ants 10mm long may pose big problem for 127-mile powerline

ARMIES of rare ants stand in the way of a controversial electricity powerline connecting renewable energy projects in the Highlands to the National Grid.

Scottish Hydro Electric Distribution is proposing to erect a line of wooden pylons running through the Cairngorms National Park in Badenoch and Strathspey. The work plays a small part of the controversial £600 million upgrade for the 127-mile Beauly-Denny line by Scottish & Southern Energy.

The park authority is now calling on the developers to implement a plan to protect populations of wood ants – deemed important to the area’s ecosystem – before beginning the scheme, which runs between Etteridge, south-west of Newtonmore, and Boat of Garten, north of Aviemore.

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In a report to go before the park’s planning committee on Friday, senior planning officer Mary Grier welcomes the fact that steel electricity towers are to be replaced with smaller, less obtrusive, wooden poles. But she said it appeared no consideration had been given to the ants.

She said: “It is recommended that a species protection plan is created for wood ants and that this incorporates suitable mitigation measures.”

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The park’s ecology officer, David Hetherington, said he believes populations of the rare Scottish, narrow-headed and hairy wood ants are present along the route of the line.

Ms Grier’s report also recommends that the construction work avoid areas where juniper plants grow. Where it is not possible to avoid the plant, then moving it should be considered.

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The report goes on to recommend that, “subject to modifications” where efforts are made to protect the wildlife, the park make no objection to Scottish Hydro Power Distribution’s proposed work on the line.

Ms Grier said: “The existing overhead power lines between Boat of Garten and Etteridge are prominent features in the landscape. That the overall project will result in the dismantling of this extensive wirescape and its replacement with smaller-scale, less obtrusive wooden pole lines, as well as undergrounding in the most sensitive area, will deliver long-term beneficial effects in landscape terms.”

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The plans are currently with the Scottish Government’s energy consent and deployment unit and Cairngorms National Park Authority been asked for comment as the 25-mile stretch of line runs through the park. The work to remove a string of existing steel electricity pylons in the Cairngorms National Park started last year.

The power line between Beauly in the Highlands and Denny, near Stirling, is being upgraded by Scottish & Southern Energy at an estimated cost of £600m. The superpylons project met with fierce opposition, but was granted by the Scottish Government.

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A spokeswoman for Scottish & Southern Energy said: “We have a good track record of listening to people’s concerns, and have a good relationship with Cairngorms National Park.

“We will wait to see what the meeting on Friday comes up with and will take the appropriate action.”