Fears have been raised for the future of a rare species of owl found at a beauty spot after an application for a nearby wind turbine was granted.
Five short-eared owls – there are between 1,000 and 3,000 breeding pairs in the UK – made their winter home at the Hicks Lodge National Forest Cycle Centre, near Ashby.
The Forestry Commission has transformed the 415-acre former opencast mine into a wildlife haven – which appears to be the ideal winter habitat for the birds. They normally live in Scandinavia and Scotland.
Earlier this year, twitchers flocked to the centre to get a glimpse of the birds. Observers said their number represented 10 per cent of the entire population in the county.
North West Leicestershire District Council’s planning committee has now voted to follow its planning officers’ recommendation to allow an application for the 147ft (45m) turbine by farmer John Jacques, of Hill Farm, Willesley Woods.
Amateur photographer and owl enthusiast Richard Pegler, of Ashby, feared the decision could prove the end for some of the birds.
He said: “There were 24 letters of objection, many about wildlife, including the threat to ground-nesting skylarks and lapwing.
“The field where the turbine will be sited is a prime hunting ground for the short-eared owls.
“Natural England says the species has an 80 per cent avoidance rate for turbines – which means 20 per cent will be struck by them.”
Natural England did not object to the application, but said an alternative habitat should be provided.
Other objections ranged from proximity of the 250kw turbine to homes and its visual impact close to an area of natural beauty.
Bryan Weston, deputy mayor of Ashby Woulds Town Council, which also objected to the application, said: “It was felt it was unacceptable to put it near a former coal mine, so recently restored for wildlife.
“There were also concerns about its effect on the area’s attractiveness to tourists.”
Mr Jacques said: “I am converting some barns into holiday lets and want to make them as environmentally-friendly as possible. I want visitors to have an eco-friendly experience without damaging the environment.
“The turbine will make us 100 per cent self-sufficient in electricity. Three separate ecology surveys were done and there were no objections.
“I would hope to have the turbine up by Christmas.”
Mr Pegler said he was investigating the possibility of initiating a European Human Rights Commission judicial review of Tuesday’s decision.
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