RSPB Scotland has raised serious worries for the future of some special breeding birds if a 39-turbine wind farm, planned for north east Sutherland is given the go-ahead.
The organisation has criticised developers energy giant Scottish Southern Energy, and its conservation planner for the north of Scotland saying it was “one of the worst onshore wind energy proposals we have seen anywhere in the UK”.
The charity said birds they are concerned for include the golden eagle, hen harrier, merlin, black-throated diver, red-throated diver, greenshank and golden plover.
Their concerns surfaced at a public local inquiry this week to scrutinise the plans by energy giant Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), which wants to sight the farm in the internationally important peatlands of the Flow Country, which RSPB Scotland says is protected under European law.
RSPB Scotland’s conservation planner for north Scotland, Peter Gordon, has highlighted the possible fate of a range of birds,in particular the greenshanks and red-throated divers which breed at Strathy South.
He said: “These two species are characteristic of the wildest parts of the Highlands and Islands and don’t breed anywhere else in Britain. This wind farm would be built in an area that is very important for both species.
“One of the most wonderful wildlife experiences you can have in the Flow Country is to witness the aerial breeding display of greenshanks as they circle and call above their territories. It is magical and sums up the spirit of these remote places, but their displays could take them straight into the spaces where the turbine blades would be spinning.
“Just as compelling is the sound of red-throated divers – they make an eerie wailing call while on their breeding lochs.
“These birds are extremely sensitive to disturbance and a wind farm at Strathy South could compromise an important area used by these birds.”
Earlier sessions of the public inquiry, held in April, considered the impacts of the development on important peatland habitats.
The final decision on whether or not the wind farm can be built will now be taken by Scottish Ministers, after receiving a report on the public inquiry proceedings.
In its detailed submission to the inquiry RSPB Scotland has also expressed its concern about the impact of Strathy South on hen harriers, which are already under pressure in the UK from what it described as “illegal persecution”, and the extremely rare wood sandpiper which it said was found in just a handful of places in Scotland.
Mr Gordon added: “RSPB Scotland is very supportive of renewable energy including wind farms, but developments must be sited to avoid damaging our most important places for wildlife.
“Unfortunately this application is one of the worst onshore wind energy proposals we have seen anywhere in the UK.
“Despite their best efforts, SSE have been unable to demonstrate that their wind farm won’t harm these important species in this incredibly sensitive location.
“We remain resolutely opposed to this application and continue to urge SSE to concentrate on delivering much needed wind power from their many less damaging sites.”
RSPB Scotland has claimed the wind farm could take at least four years, and potentially as many as 24.8 years, to save the amount of carbon which would be released during its construction.
SSE has previously said the public was being misled by opponents of the scheme, and pointed to what it described as strong local support for the scheme.
It said the project would help pay for the restoration of thousands of hectares of damaged peatland in the Flow Country.
An SSE spokesman: “The inquiry has made good progress in getting to the bottom of a range of issues – and we look forward to the Reporter delivering his report in due course.
“We were delighted to receive such warm support from the local community who attended every day. SSE concluded its case today and our expert witnesses and scientists made a very strong contribution to the debate.”
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