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RSPB steps up efforts to block wind farm plans

RSPB Scotland is stepping up its efforts to spike plans to build what would be one of Scotland’s largest wind farms in the heart of the Flow Country.

The charity has leafletted residents of north Sutherland to back the campaign mounted against SSE’s proposal to put up 47 turbines on part of the tract of blanket bog which is the subject of a World Heritage Site application. Members have also staged a demonstration on part of the Strathy South site where the company want to erect the turbines, which would have a maximum blade-tip height of 135 metres.

The SSE scheme goes before the north area planning committee of Highland Council on Tuesday when members will decide whether or not to give it their backing. Officials are recommending that the local authority does not object subject to the removal of eight turbines.

The proposal is being vigorously opposed by RSPB Scotland and a group of local people concerned about the effect the venture will have on the peatland habitat and its associated wildlife.

RSPB Caithness and Sutherland conservation officer Kenny Graham said: “I have been overwhelmed by the very strong public response to our campaign to have this proposal turned down. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about it and almost without exception they are opposed to this development.

“Even the most avid supporters of green energy recognise the unique value of the Flow Country and want to see it properly protected. This would be a totally inappropriate development in the heart of Europe’s largest blanket bog.

“Frankly I think it is bonkers that SSE has run with this proposal which is right in the middle of an area which is on the tentative list for inscription as a World Heritage Site.”

Mr Graham said a fellow objector had observed: ‘You wouldn’t go plonking a McDonald’s on the great wall of China, would you?”

Mr Graham added: “The Flows are on a par with the Great Barrier Reef. We should be looking after them, prospering from and securing their health, not compromising their future.”

The RSPB insist SSE has significantly under-estimated the risks the turbines would pose to some of Scotland’s rarest and “most charismatic” birds.

The site provides breeding grounds for golden eagles, hen harriers, black-throated and red-throated divers, greenshanks, dunlins, golden plovers wood and sandpipers.

“Almost every turbine will have a negative impact on at least one of these species,” said Mr Graham. “It’s simply the wrong site for a development like this.”

Local RSPB volunteer Megan Rowland said: “I see turbines going up all around Caithness and Sutherland but many of these are at the edges of the Flow Country.

“We simply don’t need a daft proposal completely surrounded by land of the highest conservation value. We should be celebrating and restoring the Flow Country, not building turbines on it.”

SSE, which is in the throes of building a 33 turbines at Strathy South, maintains its latest proposal can be accommodated within the landscape and that its studies show it would not have the impact on the area’s birdlife which the RSPB fears.

Councillors on Tuesday will give their recommendation to the Scottish Ministers who will have the final say on the proposal.