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Fleeing birds upset wind farm plans

Plans for a new £4 million community wind farm on the Shetland island of Yell have been stalled because three pairs of nesting birds abandoned their eggs before they hatched.

The North Yell Development Council (NYDC) had hoped to start erecting five 850KW Vesta turbines between the villages of Cullivoe and Gutcher next year.

This year the charitable business, which was first established in the 1940s, has worked hard carrying out surveys to prepare the ground for a planning application for their ambitious venture.

Having examined wind speeds, water courses, local archaeology and the habits of local bird life and otters, the enthusiastic team hit a stumbling block when it came to a rare species of local bird.

Scottish Natural Heritage told the group they had to survey the flight path of three local pairs of red throated divers, an amber listed species whose strongest foothold in Britain is Shetland.

But during the summer all three pairs abandoned their egg-filled nests and disappeared, causing concern to wildlife lovers and frustration to the NYDC who have been told they must wait another year to try the survey again.

“The birds were there, they laid their eggs and then they abandoned their nests after a week or two,” said NYDC secretary Andrew Nisbet, who believes the cause of their flight may be lack of food or the recent arrival of another species from more southern climes.

“This summer we had around 100 greylag geese flying around the area. Five years ago they were unknown here, but now they’re actually nesting rather than just visiting,” Mr Nisbet said.

Having discussed the problem, SNH have told Mr Nisbet and his eight fellow directors that if the divers fail to stay next year they would waive the need for the survey altogether. Meanwhile they must wait to see what happens next summer.

The plan is not without other obstacles, such as the need to connect to the local grid before Shetland is able to export electricity via an interconnector cable, and the current huge demand for wind turbines making it hard to have small orders filled.

But the rewards are worth working for, for example a much smaller wind farm on the isle of Gigha already generates £70,000 for the local community each year.

“We are hoping this will provide an income for future development work, but also that it will help save the planet,” Mr Nisbet said.

By Pete Bevington