|Otters at Halton by Stan Parrott. More pictures: www.polypics.co.uk|
The presence of otters in the Lune could put paid to the plans as they stand, as the mammals are a protected species and any development work that threatens their habitat will need careful consideration under EU regulations – and might indeed kill the scheme entirely.
Local residents have taken images of up to 15 individual otters around the Lune at Halton, with family groups including three females and seven cubs, over a long period of time. One fascinating video sequence shows a family devouring a 30lb salmon which they have caught.
Several otter experts say that this population at Halton is something they have not witnessed before, and some are busy preparing a new book which will feature the rich otter life at Halton. Their presence apparently is of County significance, and probably of national importance too.
"It is generally acknowledged that otter numbers are increasing because the water quality in the River Lune has improved lately," notes Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe chair David Gate. "This is a glowing commendation of Lancashire County Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan, which aims to improve water quality to attract otters.
"Yet, strangely, the County Council are denying that otters live here," he notes. "At the recent examination in to the Heysham M6 Link Road, a LCC representative who went to look for otters couldn’t find any, but heard a 'plop' in the river and guessed it was a rat."
The proposed £123 million road would damage the otters’ habitat, and result in a decline in numbers, but unbelievably the County Council has failed to do the surveys which they are legally obliged to carry out, as otters are a species protected by British and European law.
Local resident John Wilding says: “It is extraordinary that the County Council are denying what we are seeing with our own eyes. We are dealing with the so-called 'Environment Department'. It should be renamed the Environment Destruction Department.”
Another local resident Mike Jacob adds: “This is hugely important new evidence that the Planning Examiner will have to take on board. Even County Councils cannot ride rough-shod over national and European legislation.”
Back in 2004, the presence of Great Crested Newts was blamed as the reason for abandonning plans for a Western Bypass of Lancaster – although it is more likely that fierce and well-organised opposition to that road plan had more to do with a change of route.
The Morecambe Visitor reported then that an environmental impact study released by Lancashire County Council concluded that the western route would impact heavily on two species protected by the European Union – the great crested newt and bats. It would also impact on sites of special scientific interest.
The report described the choice of the western route as "perverse" and "lacking in logic" and the chances of it being passed by a public inquiry would be between "0 and 10 per cent".
Rather than investigate traffic reducing alternatives other than a new road, the County immediately focused almost all its energies on making the current route - then known as the Northern Bypass - a reality.