Internationally important bird populations in the Forth are at risk of “significant harm” due to industrial development, experts warned today.
The warning from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) comes after engineering giant Babcock submitted plans to build a container terminal.
Experts said the dredging needed to create an access channel for the terminal at Rosyth could damage mudflats where rare and vulnerable species such as the shelduck and ringed plover feed.
They said bird populations throughout the Edinburgh and Lothians region, which has popular species including the oystercatcher, could be threatened as displaced animals compete for limited food resources.
Aedan Smith, head of planning and development for RSPB Scotland, said: “We would have expected [Babcock] to adopt a precautionary approach here – the mudflats in the Forth are internationally important and the Firth of Forth is the most important site for wintering water birds in Scotland.
“In effect what [Babcock] have said is that it will all be fine, whereas what we are saying is that there is not enough evidence for that.
“At the moment the company has not done enough to show there will not be a problem if they go ahead with dredging to create access for the terminal – they should have provided a lot more detail on what the implications of this might be and on additional mitigation measures to make sure the development does not cause harm.”
The RSPB and SNH have both lodged objections to the terminal application, identified by the Scottish Government as a project of national importance, which will be considered by ministers following a public inquiry held earlier this year.
Mr Smith said many local bird species, including the puffin, gannet and kittiwake, would be put under pressure by the terminal and other projects such as windfarms, the replacement Forth crossing and a new power station at Cockenzie.
Bosses at SNH said the Rosyth development could threaten whole populations of certain bird species and called on ministers to reject it.
Iain Rennick, SNH unit manager for the Forth area, said: “[Babcock] have done work looking at the impact of the project but there are some things they haven’t looked at, particularly the impact of dredging.
“Birds that currently use the area could be displaced and that increases competition for food, which could lead to higher deaths or mortality among birds.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The inquiry on this application is finished. Reporters are now considering the evidence and the report will be submitted to ministers in late 2012.”
Bosses at Babcock declined to comment.
THE Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has identified several key species threatened by proposed and future developments in the Forth.
It says birds put at risk by plans to build a new container terminal at Rosyth include the shelduck – brightly coloured and larger than a normal mallard – and the ringed plover, above, which is known for feigning a broken wing if predators approach its nest.
Species in the Edinburgh and Lothians area which the RSPB says could be threatened if competition for food increases include the oystercatcher, above, with the world’s canarian, chatham and African sub-varieties already either extinct or endangered.
Proposals to build dozens of wind turbines in the Forth are also said to threaten more well-known bird species, for which the area’s islands and coastline are important nesting sites. These include the puffin, guillemot and razorbill, above. The 150,000-strong gannet population at Bass Rock, left, is also the world’s largest single gannetry and was described by Sir David Attenborough as “one of the wildlife wonders of the world”.