Leading ornithologists claimed yesterday that Highland planners had based their approval for a number of windfarms on inadequate environmental data.
The warning came from RSPB Scotland which is gravely concerned that, in many cases, insufficient time is allowed to gauge flight paths and breeding patterns of birds as part of essential environmental impact assessments (EIAs).
Peter Gordon, a conservation planner with the organisation, said: “This is a recurrent problem. The minimum requirement as far as the bird population is concerned is over a full year.
“The problem with some species is that the year may be untypical. If, for instance, eagles are not breeding that year, their behaviour would be different than it would be in a breeding year.”
He cited Amec’s controversial 18-turbine windfarm at Edinbane on Skye which, after years of argument, got Highland Council’s blessing at a sparsely-attended planning meeting last month.
Mr Gordon said: “There were studies done in two separate years by three different teams. There was a feeling that it was unsatisfactory in that there wasn’t a common methodology applied. The years weren’t consecutive, the seasons were different.
“It was very untidy in that sense and, had it been addressed properly from the start, it is likely that the decision-making process would have been smoother.
“Another example is Strathy North on the north coast of Sutherland, where an application has been made.”
No one from Amec or the council’s planning department was available for comment yesterday.
Echoing the call for a two-year minimum assessment period, leading Highland ecologist Roy Dennis feared the problem was being exacerbated by a dearth of suitably-qualified ornithologists and surveyors.
“I think Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB find it very difficult to deal with so many windfarms coming in. They’re running to keep up,” he said.
Bob Graham of Highlands Against Wind Farms said: “I welcome any move which investigates the very shabby EIAs that are put forward. The problem is local authorities take the EIA on board and, unless there is anything glaring, they accept the statements made by so-called ‘experts’ put forward by the developer. American thinking now is that it should really be a minimum two-year period before you can come to any conclusions about bird movements.”
By Iain Ramage
7 April 2007
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