One of the world’s smallest marine mammals could scupper plans for an enormous off-shore wind farm near the North Devon Coast.
The £3 billion Atlantic Array project could see 240 turbines built – providing enough power for 900,000 homes.
But protestors who have fought tooth and nail to have the bid thrown out are now pinning their hopes on the humble harbour porpoise.
The European Commission’s (EC) environment directorate has accepted a complaint made by the Save Our Marine Mammals group that the array would damage colonies of the harbour porpoise.
In a letter sent to activist Joanne Bell, from West Yelland, near Barnstaple, the EC said that the damage to the animal’s habitat may not have been “adequately considered”.
It has now asked the Government to explain how it would protect the species. Ms Bell said it was a small step, but an important one.
“This is good news because I don’t think they (the EC) would have taken up the complaint if there was not a case to answer.”
She said there was widespread anger in North Devon about the proposal by RWe NpowerRenewables.
“In North Devon, we all live along the coastline and we all see the marine mammals.
“We are not going to let this company just come in and lay waste to the coastline.”
Harbour porpoises are among the smallest marine mammals and campaigners say their habitat in the outer Bristol Channel would be irrevocably damaged if the Atlantic Array goes head.
The Save Our Marine Mammals group initially raised concerns with Brussels in August last year, saying they feared they feared the impact the 11 year development programme would have.
The group argued that scientific evidence pointed to the fact that the wind farm would pose a very real danger to the grounds where harbour porpoises live and breed.
The campaigners also point to the fact that Worldwide Fund for Nature has proposed the outer Bristol Channel as part of a shadow list of special areas of conservation.
In a letter confirming that the complaint will be acted upon, Gunter Read, acting head of unit at environment directorate of the European Commission, said: “As a result of our investigations we have now decided to follow this matter up with infringement action….”
He said a letter had been sent to the UK Government raising concerns about the failure to identify for the protection of harbour porpoise at a number of sites, including the Outer Bristol Channel.
He said the Government may be in breach of their obligations and that the Commission was awaiting a formal response.
At present, North Devon District Council is the only local authority in England to officially object to the plans.
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