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Record number of birds flock to Valleyfield ash lagoons

04/12/2023

The largest number of single flocks of Curlew and Pink-footed geese have been recorded on the inner forth following the completion of restoration works on ash lagoons located near the site of the former Longannet Power Station.

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Record numbers of threatened bird species have been recorded near the site of the former Longannet Power Station.

ScottishPower has completed work on an extensive £4.5m capping and restoration programme at Valleyfield in Fife, which includes a specially designed haven for birds and other wildlife.

Constructed on reclaimed land from the Forth estuary, the lagoons store residual ash slurry from the coal-fired power generation process. ScottishPower closed Longannet in 2016, marking its commitment to generating 100% green electricity, and finished demolition of the site in 2021. It has been working with stakeholders since to restore the site.

The ash lagoons are surrounded by inter-tidal habitats that make up part of the Firth of Forth Special Protection Area (SPA). These habitats are internationally important for wintering and migrating waders and wildfowl, putting the lagoons themselves in the heart of one of central Scotland’s most important wildlife areas. The Valleyfield lagoons are also designated as part of the Firth of Forth Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and as part of the Torry Bay Local Nature Reserve (LNR), reflecting its national and local significance for wildlife.

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Restoring natural beauty from an industrial legacy

The plan to return the industrial legacy of the power station to an area of natural beauty was devised in consultation with RSPB, Nature Scot, Fife Council, SEPA and expert ecologists, who worked with ScottishPower to restore and manage the site to ensure that it continued to be a haven for these amazing birds.

Work at the wetland area was carried out with a focus on encouraging wading bird species to roost during high tides. Several raised islands and gentle slopes were created to provide shelter from winds and safety from predators. A safe nesting environment, known as a wader scrape, has been designed and created on one of the lagoons, where salt water is pumped in on a regular and automated basis to keep water levels to design specification - and a wind turbine provides the power the pumps need.

Many of the wading birds are in declining numbers and the work here will go some way to ensure they brighten our countryside for future generations to enjoy. Viewing areas have also been created so that the public can see the birds without causing any unnecessary disturbance.

Since the restoration of the site, ecologists have recorded one of the largest single flocks of Curlew on the inner Forth at the lagoons, and a flock of over 2,000 pink-footed geese. Other species include Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Shelduck and Mallard. Curlew, Dunlin and Ringed Plover have a Red UK conservation status due to their decreasing numbers, which makes the site an invaluable habitat.

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Andrew Ward, CEO ScottishPower Customer Business said, “Our commitment to environmental stewardship is at the heart of this project. We’ve worked hard to create a haven for biodiversity from the industrial legacy of Longannet. This collaboration represents how industry, conservation organisations, and local government can come together for a sustainable future."

One of the key objectives of the project was to cap and seal the lagoons and collaborative efforts saw the use of the colliery shale from the former Comrie Colliery as capping material at Valleyfield, which was an additional positive outcome, benefitting two communities.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, MSP for Dunfermline, said, "It is really encouraging to see the progress that has been made in recent years to convert land at the former Longannet Power Station into a sanctuary for wildlife.

"What a great example of how Scotland can build a green, sustainable future by more effectively using sites from our industrial heritage.”

From one of the newly installed bird hides the purpose-built sand martin bank can be viewed and additional seating has been installed for keen ornithologists.

Toby Wilson, Senior Conservation Officer at RSPB Scotland said; “already, we are seeing large numbers of birds using the site as a high tide roost and this is likely to increase.

“RSPB Scotland looks forward to continuing to work with ScottishPower at Valleyfield and other sites to help wildlife thrive on these important post-industrial sites.”

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