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RSPB slams Flow Country turbine plans

The company behind plans for a new wind farm in the Flow Country will have to overcome an objection from the country’s biggest nature conservation charity.

RSPB Scotland (RSPBS) has challenged the controversial Strathy South plan proposed by SSE – owners of Scottish Hydro – and described it as “one of the most worrying we’ve ever seen”.

The application for a 47-turbine wind farm has been criticised by RSPBS for its impact on breeding birds and its location, being in the middle of the Caithness and Sutherland peatlands’ Special Protection Area (SPA). The tract of blanket bog, which is an important carbon store, is home to rare and endangered species such as golden eagle, hen harrier, merlin, black-throated diver, red-throated diver, greenshank and golden plover.

RSPBS fears the turbines would pose a serious risk to many of these already vulnerable bird populations in part of an area which is being proposed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

There is also concern the development would undermine a shared vision from RSPBS, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forestry Commission Scotland, Highland Council, Plantlife and the University of the Highlands and Islands to restore huge swathes of the Flow Country. Last month the Scottish Government announced £15 million of new funding to support the restoration of Scotland’s peatlands.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPBS, said: “This is without doubt one of the most worrying wind farm applications we’ve seen in Scotland.

“Wind farms play a vital part in tackling climate change but damage to our most important places for wildlife must be minimised.

“Over the last few years SSE have shown they can be a responsible developer, abandoning or amending some proposals elsewhere in Scotland that would have harmed wildlife, but this proposal sticks out like a sore thumb in their current portfolio.

“That they would consider something like this, in such a vital home for nature, is very disappointing. It cannot be allowed to proceed and we hope SSE reconsiders its plans or that Scottish ministers quickly reject this application.”

The opposition comes after SSE’s 33-turbine Strathy North wind farm, around 7km from Strathy, received consent in November 2011 and is now under way. The turbines are due to start arriving next summer, with the site expected to be operational by late 2015.