Oct 6 2010 by Gregor White, Stirling Observer Wednesday
RED squirrels could hold the key to preventing any planned expansion of quarrying activities near Cambusbarron.
In response to a query from Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford, Scottish Natural Heritage said that any survey showing red squirrels present in an area planned for quarrying would mean that “appropriate action would need to be taken in order to avoid committing an offence”.
And they added that there is “currently no licensing provision to allow the destruction of red squirrel dreys for the purpose of development”.
Campaigners have been working since 2006 to prevent quarry firm Hanson Aggregates Ltd from expanding operations in the Murrayshall/ Gillies Hill area behind the village, since it came to light that they currently have planning permission granting them a free hand in the area until at least 2042.
In 2008 it was confirmed that an error by Stirling Council meant an Environmental Impact Assessment which should have been carried out on the site in 2002, following a change in legislation, had been overlooked.
The council, however, have no power to force the company to go through the EIA process retrospectively and Hanson have so far shown no interest in volunteering for it.
Earlier this year members of the Save Gillies Hill group raised the possibility of taking Hanson to court themselves, to force the EIA upon them.
Now the squirrel issue may offer them extra leverage.
“Under current wildlife legislation, developers are required to avoid actions which damage or destroy either squirrels or their places of shelter,” SNH say.
“This usually translates to action which retains trees supporting red squirrel dreys.
“However, in practice each development proposal differs in extent, timing and impact on the protected animals.”
Mr Crawford called the SNH statement “extremely promising” and added: “I hope to discuss the minister’s response with campaigners fighting the reactivation of quarrying at an early opportunity, and seek clarification from Stirling Council over enforcement of legal protection of red squirrels, which I understand is the responsibility of the planning authority.”
Peter Paterson, of Save Gillies Hill, said walkers in the area regularly reported seeing red squirrels, particularly around the Bronze Age fort site and close to the present Hanson depot.
However, he added, the fact that they were there was not enough to immediately halt expanded quarrying if the firm decides to proceed.
“Quarrying in these areas could begin, theoretically, at any time,” he said.
“The need for an EIA in the 2002 Review of Old Mineral Permissions, is now recognised generally, but crucially has not been confirmed legally.
“Until this happens, or the quarriers agree not to quarry until 2017, then they are technically free to begin, with all the dire consequences for all wildlife nearby.”