This week was a very worrying one for those who care about Scotland’s seabirds, not because of a winter storm or hundreds of unexplained deaths, but because of an announcement regarding new offshore wind development.
More renewable energy is needed to help tackle climate change, one of the greatest threats to wildlife and people, and RSPB Scotland is supportive of offshore wind. But we are in a nature and climate emergency and all major developments, including windfarms, must avoid the most important places for wildlife and deliver benefits for both climate and nature.
Scotland, famous for its wildlife and landscapes, is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Whilst much of this loss is historical, we are still losing nature – since 1970 half of our species have declined, with 1 in 9 at risk of national extinction.
Seabirds are some of the hardest hit: overall numbers have declined by 49% since the mid-1980s, but we’ve lost more than 60% of Arctic terns, 70% of kittiwakes and 80% of Arctic skuas. Even the most iconic of our seabirds – puffins – are suffering declines that threaten their future.
The announcement from Crown Estate Scotland, that developers have options to build on 7,000 square kilometres of Scotland’s seabed for up to 24.8GW of offshore wind energy, took us by surprise. We (and many others) were expecting around 10GW across 2,000 square kilometres as this was the cap set by Scottish Government in their existing plan to limit environmental harm.
The offshore wind developments already in operation or under construction are predicted to kill hundreds of seabirds each year including kittiwakes and puffins. Development at the scale of this week’s announcement can be expected to have greater impacts and only add to the pressure on Scotland’s struggling seabirds. Despite this nature was barely mentioned.
We were pleased to be able to share our concerns and possible solutions with the Environment and Rural Affairs Minister earlier this week and it’s clear, from the Cabinet Secretary’s statement in Parliament, that the government are aware of the harm to our natural environment that each development must consider. However, the significant cumulative damage arising from this hugely ambitious development programme must be addressed strategically, with government setting the expectations and approach.
We are calling on the Scottish Government to urgently commit to ensuring that the development of offshore wind in Scottish waters will not just minimise the number of seabirds killed but will also have to provide benefits to seabirds and help restore the marine environment. This will require a clear indication that only projects that do this will progress and a commitment to deliver the needed restoration. Many restoration actions could be achieved quickly if funding was available. Scottish Ministers should allocate a substantial portion of the initial £700 million raised from the exploitation of Scotland’s natural environment to restoring our natural environment.
The First Minister has been clear that the nature crisis is as important as the climate crisis, and that she wants Scotland to lead the way on protecting and restoring nature. To achieve this, measures taken to address climate change must not have disastrous impacts for nature. It doesn’t have to be a choice. With the right planning and clear vision, it is possible to have green energy that helps protect our climate and nature.
Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland
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