An estate owner and Scotland’s leading bird charity are at loggerheads over allegations his plans for a wind farm will kill up to a dozen golden and sea eagles.
RSPB Scotland published an estimate of the death toll and confirmed it will object to the proposal for 12 turbines on the Eisgein estate in the Isle of Lewis.
But Nick Oppenheim, the estate’s owner, accused the charity of double counting because the new development would be next door to a wind farm already given the go-ahead.
The estate, which is located on the Pairc peninsula of Lewis, is home to around a dozen pairs of breeding golden eagles, one of the highest densities in Europe.
It is also one of the favoured sites in the Western Isles for the controversial programme to reintroduce white-tailed sea eagles in Scotland.
However, energy company GDF SUEZ is already pressing ahead with plans for the 39-turbine Beinn Mhor wind farm on the estate.
Uisinis Power, a company of which Mr Oppenheim is a director, has tabled the new planning application for an extension consisting of another dozen turbines.
RSPB Scotland said the wind farm already approved has the potential to kill eight golden eagles and three sea eagles while displacing or destroying to golden eagle territories. The RSPB said the new wind farm could kill a further dozen eagles.
The warning came only weeks after a rare bird last seen in the UK 22 years ago was killed after flying into a turbine on the Isle of Harris.
Robin Reid, RSPB Scotland’s conservation officer for the Western Isles, urged Scottish minsters to reject the planning application. He said: “This proposal shows a complete and utter disregard for the environment.
“Building wind turbines so close to breeding golden eagles could cause significant long-term damage to the local and national populations of this iconic species.”
He said no further wind farms should be consented for the estate until the impact of the one already approved has been assessed.
According to the RSPB, the area could become a “sink” for the species as those birds killed by turbines are replaced by more naive sea eagles who then succumb to the same fate.
In addition to collisions, the charity’s research suggests that nest sites could be abandoned as the majority of proposed turbine placements are in close proximity to golden eagle eyries.
But Mr Oppenheim said plans for the new wind farm had already been scaled back from 31 to 12 turbines to reduce the risk of bird collision.
“We are talking about an extension that runs immediately alongside a consented wind farm. The additional threat (to birds) is minimal if at all,” he said.
“The RSPB are double counting the numbers. The estate costs a lot to run and after I die my children will sell it unless there’s an income to support it.”
He added that “nothing is going to happen” until a subsea interconnector is built allowing power generated for the turbines to be transmitted to the mainland National Grid.
This was originally supposed to be in place in 2016 but has recently been delayed until 2017 at the earliest.