A major wind farm planned for the heart of Scotland’s Flow Country peatlands is being recommended for approval by planners.
Officials at Highland Council have said if the Strathy South project in Sutherland is reduced in size from 47 to 39 turbines, it will be commended to councillors without objection.
The decision has angered RSPB Scotland, which described the wind farm as one of the “most worrying” it had ever seen. The RSPB, along with Scottish Natural Heritage, has opposed the scheme, claiming it will have an adverse impact on rare species of birds.
Energy giant SSE has claimed the wind farm project would help “restore” thousands of hectares of damaged blanket bog in the globally important site.
The Flow Country is the name given to 1,500 square miles of peatland in Caithness and Sutherland – the largest blanket bog in the world. It is one of the planet’s rarest habitats and home to many bird species including golden eagle, hen harrier, merlin, black-throated diver, red throated diver, greenshank and golden plover. It is also an important carbon store.
SSE was given consent for 33 turbines at Strathy North in 2011 and now wants to expand on to a new site of a non-native conifer plantation. It had originally sought permission in 2007 for 77 turbines, but eventually reduced that number by 30 at Strathy South.
Councillors will consider the proposal on Tuesday, with the final decision going to the Scottish Government.
RSPB Caithness and Sutherland conservation officer Kenny Graham said: “I have been overwhelmed by the 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. 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.”
Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, added: “This is, without doubt, one of the most worrying wind farm applications we have seen in Scotland.
“Not only does it risk harming some of the UK’s rarest species, it would make restoration of this core part of the globally important Flow Country much more difficult.”
Colin Nicol, SSE’s lead director of wholesale generation development, said: “We have demonstrated that Strathy South wind farm is a carefully designed proposal which would generate clean energy and restore thousands of hectares of damaged peatland in the Flow Country.
“It would also create major investment in the local and wider Highland economy.”
Conifer forests were planted on the Flows peatlands in the 1970s, a number by celebrities who invested due to tax breaks offered at the time.
These plantations are the subject of large-scale “restoration” work supported by many government agencies and local groups.
Mr Nicol said: “We have made clear commitments to restore degraded peatlands and manage habitats for key species.”
The Flow Country covers over 400,000 hectares and its peat, which has been forming for thousands of years, can be five metres deep.
The dead remains of bog mosses and other plants are preserved in wet, acidic conditions. Over 400 million tonnes of carbon are stored beneath the surface, protected by a fragile layer of moss that stops it escaping into the atmosphere.
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