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Proposal to construct a waste pipeline near Siccar Point, Berwickshire

The Geological Society’s attention has been drawn to a planning application by Drysdales to the Scottish Borders Council, for permission to construct a pipeline to carry solid and liquid waste from its vegetable processing plant at Old Cambus, Berwickshire. The route of the proposed pipeline crosses the foreshore 150m to the east of Siccar Point. Concerns have been raised regarding this application.  Siccar Point is a globally significant geoheritage site, as recognised by its designation as an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).  It is famous as the location of ‘Hutton’s Unconformity’, which as early as 1788 provided crucial evidence for the emerging uniformitarian theory of geology and about the age of the Earth.  Near-vertical Silurian greywackes are overlain by gently  dipping Devonian strata (Old Red Sandstone).

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Angular unconformity at Siccar Point. Source: Dave Souza, Wikipedia.

The deadline for comments on Drysdales’ planning application has been extended until 23 September.  The original planning application documents, consultation responses sent prior to the original deadline and all subsequent comments can be found at http://bit.ly/PYsl5M.  Anyone wishing to comment to the council can do so by logging in on that site.  Further information on how to do this is at http://bit.ly/PI65Kv.  Another web site protesting against the proposed development has been established separately at http://www.savesiccarpoint.co.uk/.  The Geological Society has been in contact with Scottish National Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) to seek to establish the facts regarding the proposal.

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Topographical Survey proposed pumping main route, showing extent of proposed pipeline. Note offshore extent is not provided. Source: McKay and Partners Consulting Engineers.

The SSSI within which Siccar Point and Hutton’s Unconformity are located is defined by geological boundaries.  The locations of both the proposed pipeline and pump-house building lie outside the SSSI boundaries.  As such, there is no evidence that construction will risk physical destruction of the SSSI.

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Blue shaded area represents the site boundary of Siccar Point SSSI. Source: SSSI Registers of Scotland Executive Agency.

There remain potential grounds for concern.  The distance offshore that the pipeline will discharge into the sea is not clear, though it is said to be at a point 2.5m below the mean spring low tide.  Whilst the waste it is to carry is not classified as a ‘hazardous substance’, there appears to have been no detailed modelling either of the hydrological regime into which it will be discharged or the impact from the distribution of effluent.  Modelling of the transport system would provide some confidence about the long term fate of the discharged material and whether it may return to the shore locally or down-current, or remain in the sea.  Questions have also been raised about the potential impact on the local marine biodiversity and seawater chemistry.  The volume of discharge through the proposed pipeline is currently unclear.

The area around Siccar Point is attractive to tourists, in large part because of its beautiful and historically important geology.  It is also renowned worldwide as a location for field visits by students and professional geoscientists.  Any visual impact on the site as a result of construction or of effluent returning to the shoreline is likely to have a negative impact on what is a major educational, amenity and heritage resource.  Should significant amounts of waste return to shore in the locality, there may be concerns about safety, for example due to poor conditions underfoot. 

The Geological Society stands ready to advise on matters of geoscience relating to this planning application, and will monitor its progress.

The Geological Society

5 September 2012