RSPB Scotland has voiced ‘grave concerns’ for the fate of some special breeding birds if a contentious wind farm planned for the heart of the Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland gets the green light.
A public local inquiry has been held to scrutinise an application by energy giant Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), which wants to build a 39 turbine wind farm at Strathy South.
The sessions held have mainly focused on the potential impact of the development on birds, and closed on Saturday.
Peter Gordon, RSPB Scotland’s Conservation Planner for North Scotland, highlighted the possible fate of a range of birds, including greenshanks and red-throated divers which breed at Strathy South. He said:
“These two species are characteristic of the wildest parts of the Highlands and Islands and don’t breed anywhere else in Britain. This wind farm would be built in an area that is very important for both species.
“One of the most wonderful wildlife experiences you can have in the Flow Country is to witness the aerial breeding display of greenshanks as they circle and call above their territories. It is magical and sums up the spirit of these remote places, but their displays could take them straight into the spaces where the turbine blades would be spinning.
“Just as compelling is the sound of red-throated divers – they make an eerie wailing call while on their breeding lochs. These birds are extremely sensitive to disturbance and a wind farm at Strathy South could compromise an important area used by these birds.”
“Despite their best efforts, SSE have been unable to demonstrate that their wind farm won’t harm these important species in this incredibly sensitive location. We remain resolutely opposed to this application and continue to urge SSE to concentrate on delivering much needed wind power from their many less damaging sites.”
Earlier sessions of the public inquiry, held in April, considered the impacts of the development on important peatland habitats. The final decision on whether or not the wind farm can be built will now be taken by Scottish Ministers, after receiving a report on the public inquiry proceedings.
In its detailed submission to the inquiry RSPB Scotland has also expressed its concern about the impact of Strathy South on hen harriers, which are already under pressure in the UK from illegal persecution, and the extremely rare wood sandpiper which is found in just a handful of places in Scotland.
Gordon added: “RSPB Scotland is very supportive of renewable energy including wind farms, but developments must be sited to avoid damaging our most important places for wildlife.
“Unfortunately this application is one of the worst onshore wind energy proposals we have seen anywhere in the UK.”
After SSE concluded its case at the Strathy South wind farm public inquiry, a spokesman said: “The inquiry has made good progress in getting to the bottom of a range of issues – and we look forward to the Reporter delivering his report in due course.
“We were delighted to receive such warm support from the local community who attended every day. Our expert witnesses and scientists made a very strong contribution to the debate.”
The proposed wind farm comprises 39 turbines with a renewable energy generation capacity of up to 133MW. It is located approximately eight miles south of Strathy village in Sutherland.
The SSE spokesman added: “If consented, Strathy South would join the existing Strathy North wind farm in contributing many millions of pounds to local projects and initiatives in a very rural part of Scotland through SSE’s community investment funds. It would also inject significant sums through its supply chain – bringing economic benefits to a range of Highland businesses.”