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Environment / No impact expected on Sandy Loch reservoir from peat store, Scottish Water says

Sustainable Shetland chairman says the “effects of the peat dump should be closely monitored”

Sustainable Shetland's recent photo of the peat store.

SCOTTISH Water says no impact is expected on the Sandy Loch reservoir from the peat deposition and reinstatement site at the Staney Hill quarry in Lerwick following recent rainfall.

The issue of the peat store was raised last week by campaign group Sustainable Shetland, which said on social media that the area was “turning into a bit o a slester”.

There was concern raised that the potential run-offs from peat store – which is operated by Tulloch Developments – could travel into the catchment area for the Sandy Loch reservoir, which supplies drinking water.

The peat store has historically been used during construction of a number of developments including housing, and more recently some peat has been taken there during Viking Energy’s construction of an access road in Kergord.

A Viking Energy spokesperson said most of the peat on the site is not connected to the wind farm development.

A representative for Scottish Water said the area being used for peat storage “does not drain towards the loch”.

They explained that the “great majority” of the quarry area drains to the north side of Lerwick, and “only a small area is within the catchment of Sandy Loch”.

“We routinely monitor ‘raw’ water quality at the intakes to the water treatment works, as well as the drinking water that we supply to customers to ensure that strict quality standards are met,” the spokesperson said.

“Given the location of the peat store within the quarry, no impact would be expected at Sandy Loch. I think we understand that, after settlement/treatment, the run-off from the site is being discharged to the Burn of Gremista.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), meanwhile, said the organisation had not received any reports of pollution.

“The use of peat for the improvement of land at Staney Hill quarry holds a waste exemption from SEPA, which was issued in February 2020,” they said.

“Waste exemptions are used for activities that are generally low-risk to the environment.

“SEPA has not received any reports of pollution in Sandy Loch, but as it is a drinking water source the quality is monitored closely by Scottish Water and if any concerns were raised to SEPA we would investigate.”

A Viking Energy spokesperson said: “The Staney Hill site is a longstanding SEPA licensed peat deposition and reinstatement scheme which accepts peat for reinstatement from many developments around Shetland, including schools, port developments and housing developments.

“Viking’s Habitat Management Plan (HMP) has been approved by SEPA, SNH and Shetland Islands Council. An independent expert advisory group, Shetland Windfarm Environmental Advisory Group (SWEAG) will oversee the comprehensive programme of conservation measures, which include extensive peat restoration over 260 hectares of significantly damaged and eroded habitat.

“The majority of the peat on the Viking windfarm site is heavily eroded and significantly degraded, is currently a net- emitter of carbon and will benefit from proactive reinstatement.

“As part of a SEPA-approved peat management plan for the nearly completed Kergord access track, some surplus peat has been transported to Staney Hill for reinstatement there, however the significant majority of peat excavated at Kergord is being retained there for reinstatement in-situ.

“Reversing decades of serious erosion and degradation is a central priority of Viking Energy’s ongoing construction works. Extensive effort is being applied to peat and blanket bog restoration and all handling and storage of excavated peat on site is part of a wider plan for its reuse and reinstatement to achieve these restoration goals.”

In response, Sustainable Shetland chairman Frank Hay said the “effects of the peat dump should be closely monitored”.

“Discoloured water has been reported in some houses in Lerwick recently, the dump should be assessed as a possible source of peaty water,” he said.

He added that the the reinstatement of peat at Staney Hill quarry is “clearly not working too well since a large part of it became unstable after the heavy rain last Tuesday”.

“Peat for reinstatement has to be carefully managed and that clearly has not happened here,” Hay said.

The group chairman also claimed that Viking’s assertion that the majority of the peat on the wind farm site is heavily eroded and degraded “is a gross exaggeration”.

“Some of the peat on the tops of ridges has indeed been eroded but nothing like the ‘majority’.”

“On most of the hill where they are currently working there was little erosion or degradation before they started work,” Hay added.

“The degradation has been caused by Viking/SSE themselves. It is only too clear to observers the mess that this job has become and many are horrified by the prospect of four more years of this in the hills of the Central Mainland.”