Dargavel Village, Bishopton by BAE Systems
Shortlisted for Brownfield Awards Category 13 - Best Biodiversity Enhancement
Demonstration of respect for local ecosystems in a brownfield project, with long term planning to enhance biodiversity and amenity value.
The Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) at Bishopton is one of the UK’s largest brownfield regeneration projects. The 1,900 acre former explosive manufacturing facility is being sustainably transformed into a thriving residential-led development, piloted by the landowner BAE Systems, in collaboration with numerous stakeholders. On completion, the scheme will provide 4000 homes; commercial and community hubs; internal infrastructure; road and rail connectivity; and flood compensation. The redevelopment is centred on a Core Development Area (CDA), which encompasses amenity greenspace and ecologically sensitive areas. Uniquely, the CDA sits alongside 450 ha of ecologically rich brownfield land, designated as Dargavel Country Park. Together, the CDA and Dargavel Country Park aim to achieve increased access and enjoyment of nature for the local community, whilst enabling the long-term protection and enhancement of biodiversity. Key to this goal is the inclusion of an Ecological Project Manager and Ecological Clerk of Works (ECoW) within the BAE project team. This provides an exceptional level of ecological support for all aspects of the redevelopment, from input into design codes and site-wide strategies, through to protected species surveys; licensing and supervision of works; and innovative biodiversity enhancements.
Respect for Local Ecosystems and Protected Species
The respect for local ecosystems and protected species stems from the intrinsic value of the site for biodiversity and the ROF’s historical land use. Closure of the factory began in the south following the First World War and spread northwards, ultimately leading to the ROF decommissioning in 2001. This decline in management saw nature re-establish and reconnect an array of habitats, including woodland, watercourses, open grassland and scrub, characterised throughout by dilapidated factory buildings and remnant infrastructure, Figure 1. Today, the site supports ancient woodland of semi-natural and plantation origin and three Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs), including Barochan Moss, an area of lowland raised peat bog. Initial ecological surveys found a range of notable fauna, including the following species designated as conservation priorities for the site: badger, otter, bats, barn owl, kingfisher, crossbill and little ringed plover. Protected species make use of both natural and artificial features, demonstrating the richness of brownfield sites and reflecting the challenges presented by large scale remediation projects. A phased approach to the development has minimised impacts and enabled works to be undertaken as sensitively as possible. To date, four of seven phases have been completed over the period 2012-2021, transforming 780 acres of brownfield land. The final phase will involve remediation to open space requirements within Dargavel Country Park, with the project completion set for 2035.
Figure 1: Drone view taken above Barochan Moss, showing the extensive former factory area in the foreground referred to as Dargavel Country Park
Compliance with Legislation, Codes and Guidance
Compliance with legislation and guidance is paramount for the ecology team. All ecological impacts arising from the redevelopment are addressed in line with survey and mitigation guidelines, which includes strict adherence to protected species licensing protocols. The team maintains a close relationship with the licensing body, NatureScot, involving site tours, presentations and meetings for each phase of the project. This led to the issuing of unique five-year licences for badger and otter, which have been renewed successfully in subsequent years. When licensable or other sensitive works are being undertaken, the ECoW deliver toolbox talks; discuss with contractors the constraints and working methods required; and provide direct supervision. The ecology team also carry out pre-works and annual rolling surveys to meet licensing conditions and ensure both BAE and the NatureScot case officer are kept updated with changing conditions on site. Examples of surveys and effective avoidance and mitigation measures include:
Breeding birds: Forward planning identifies potential nesting habitats requiring removal to facilitate works. Where the programme allows, these areas are removed outside of the breeding season. During the season, surveys comprise twice weekly checks of any remaining habitats, structures and buildings, to determine the presence of nests within and adjacent to working areas. Of particular note is Schedule 1 little ringed plover, which creates highly camouflaged scrapes on open ground, including areas undergoing active remediation. Contractors are kept up to date with nesting bird risks through regular reporting, constraints plans and marking out of buffer zones on the ground.
Bats: Bat surveys are undertaken prior to the commencement of each phase and are outsourced to a local ecological consultancy. In 2019, 69 buildings were subject to dusk and dawn surveys, leading to the identification of 14 bat roosts. Data were fed back to the Ecological Project Manager and mitigation (careful timing, removal of roosting features and supervision of demolition under a Bat Low Impact Licence) was implemented, alongside the provision of alternative roosts in the form of bat boxes.
Otter: The site supports two breeding female otter and one dog otter, which are monitored by the in- house ECoW, through regular surveys and trail camera deployment. To date, impacts to otter have been mitigated for through the creation of artificial holts and resting places, as well as the creation of three acres of wetland habitat on the periphery of Barochan Moss.
Badger: Annual and pre-works surveys for badger setts are completed by the in-house ecology team. Surveys incorporate bait-marking, allowing for a detailed assessment of territory extent and boundaries between clans, Figure 2. Initial phases of the redevelopment saw the creation of three artificial setts as compensation for the licensed removal of annex and outlier setts. Within the Country Park, impacts have been avoided through careful micro-siting of works, including altering the size and shape of a SUDS pond in response to the establishment of a new breeding badger sett. The project has also constructed three badger tunnels under newly constructed roads, to allow badger to continue to move safely through the area. The site has maintained the nine original badger clans and supports the highest density of badger setts in the wider area.
Figure 2: Spatial analysis of badger clan territories; camera monitoring and construction of artificial setts
The ongoing presence of ecologists on site provides opportunities to monitor not only species distribution, but the effectiveness of mitigation and compensation, years after being implemented. In turn, this provides valuable input into long-term planning for biodiversity. For instance, engaging with planning and design consultants led to the production of a site-wide ecological strategy, which is fed into design codes for individual development plots, Figure 3. The strategy clearly identifies areas of existing biodiversity value, both within the CDA and the wider site; habitat creation and compensation areas within the CDA; amenity areas within the CDA; and wildlife corridors.
Figure 3: GIS plan of site-wide ecological strategy
Crossover areas of ecological and amenity value are carefully considered in terms of design plans and future management. The Dargavel Ponds are one such area within the CDA, which have retained their natural scrub and tree cover, including fallen deadwood, for ecological benefit. Two small areas of banking have been altered, to accommodate modern viewing platforms, together with information boards designed jointly by the ecology and communications teams, Figure 4.
Figure 4: Dargavel Ponds viewing platform and information boards
Wildlife corridors within the CDA represent further areas which combine amenity and biodiversity value. In the northern section of the site, the previously piped Cordite Burn has been opened up to a surface water feature, creating new riparian habitat. At the Craigton Burn, ecological advice has informed planning and design stages, landscaping and hydrological engineering. The restored watercourse corridor will offer a range of bank profiles and substrates to benefit riparian fauna and provide flood attenuation. Willow planting and marginal vegetation, together with natural and artificial structures, will promote continued use of the corridor by otter. Disturbance to habitats will be minimised by the careful placement of footpaths and implementation of a sensitive lighting scheme.
Similarly, effective engagement between the ecology team, planning consultants and the local authority enables the wealth of ecological data held for Dargavel Country Park to be shared. This information informs an evolving strategic plan for the Country Park, addressing public access, recreation and heritage alongside woodland management and enhancement of habitats. Reviewing ecological data ensures that plans for footpaths and recreational areas do not encroach into protected habitats and avoid disturbance to sensitive species. This has proved effective in remediating and opening up some areas of the park known as the Houston and Newton Wildlife Areas, offering footpaths throughout species-rich grassland; ponds and native hedgerow; artificial badger setts; and the barn owl tower (see below). Together with the Fire Ponds and other areas of natural habitat within the CDA, this early access has been positively received by the local community. Residents have established photography and wildlife groups; engaged with a social enterprise to place bat and bird boxes around the development; and expressed interest in future wildlife projects.
The redevelopment presents opportunities to go further and create innovative enhancements for biodiversity. Specific examples are detailed below, demonstrating forward planning, cost effectiveness and the delivery of both long-term social and environmental benefits.
Woodland enhancement and community engagement: In 2019, BAE opted to improve the mature conifer plantations within the Country Park which were never harvested, resulting in a species-poor monoculture of spruce. The ecology team advised BAE and contractors on selective thinning and felling, preserving notable specimens and tree groups of wildlife value. In association with a social enterprise, Eadha, a planting scheme was developed using a mix of native broadleaved and coniferous trees, ensuring new woodland blocks will be productive whilst offering increased amenity and biodiversity value. In seeking volunteers to plant trees, the scheme engaged the local community and led to the creation of an on-site tree nursey, Figure 5. The nursery not only provides continued opportunities for charity and community involvement, but also cost savings for future habitat enhancement and creation. Another example of community engagement is the recent construction of a badger hide in the nearby woodland. Through increasing awareness of protected species in advance, the project aims to promote a positive mind-set towards biodiversity within the local community.
Figure 5: On site tree nursery; badger hide; and replanting scheme
Barn owl and bat mitigation: As the majority of factory buildings will be lost, an early goal in the project was to provide suitable alternative habitats for barn owl and bats. This led to the installation of barn owl boxes, bat boxes and the construction of two timber barn owl manors. Whilst these were occupied by the target species, a more durable and long-lasting solution was sought. This led to the retention of a small number of buildings, for which the cost saving of demolition was put towards making the structures safe and installing bat roosting opportunities. Furthermore, a unique barn owl tower was designed and built, fully supported by recycled construction materials. The tower was successfully occupied by breeding barn owls the following year, demonstrating a sustainable and cost effective approach to mitigation, Figure 6.
Figure 6: Barn owl mitigation at the site includes pole boxes, owl manors and the recycled barn owl tower
Introduction of new species:
In addition to the species of conservation priority, the ecology team has sought to accommodate new species, which had been previously lost from the local area. Following the expansion in the local ranges of red squirrel and pine marten towards the site, it was agreed to establish eight pine marten boxes and implement a monitoring programme. Furthermore, following the enhancement of wetland habitat on the periphery of Barochan Moss for otter, two osprey nesting platforms were established within the canopy of Scot’s pine trees.
Overall, the redevelopment aims to address the environmental liabilities and legacies of the ROF’s former use, whilst addressing the legal and corporate responsibilities of undertaking large-scale regeneration. Biodiversity remains a key priority for the development, which is managed successfully by the ecology team and involves collaboration and engagement with multiple stakeholders. This leads to exciting and novel solutions to support protected species and habitats, whilst providing access and enjoyment of natural spaces for the growing Dargavel community.