Holiday complex dolphin protection regime found unsound

Harm to a special conservation area (SAC) and the area's appearance and character has led to refusal of permission for an eco-holiday complex on the Moray Firth coast.

The appeal site formed an area of open but vegetated dunes in a clearing within coniferous woodland falling within a marine and coastal SAC designated mainly for its bottlenose dolphin populations. The appellants proposed to convert a ruined stone bothy to an office and install eight eco-friendly off-grid holiday units along with associated parking, storage and access.

Following an appropriate assessment under the Habitats Regulations, the council and Scottish Natural Heritage had approved proposed mitigation measures to protect the local dolphin population. These included a desalinisation plant to provide potable water at the site using sea-water extraction via a non-fixed hosepipe that would only be used at high tide and following a visual inspection to make sure no dolphins were present in the sea nearby.

The reporter found this approach unacceptable in ensuring no adverse effects. He queried how no disturbance to dolphins could be guaranteed when high tides fell at night or when fog or heavy rain made any visual search ineffective. He was unable to see how a condition to ensure such mitigation could be worded to meet the tests set out in government circulars for precision, reasonableness and enforceability.

In addition to his concerns over nature conservation, he was also concerned that the scheme would bring about a significant change to the site’s nature, substantially altering the appearance and character of an area designated as a coastal protection zone in the local plan. 

Reporter: Rob Huntley; Written representations

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