Recent sightings of white-tailed sea eagles in a north Sutherland village have led to calls for a planned wind farm to be put on hold.
Armadale couple Paul and Laura Morgan claim the potential threat to the rare species needs to be re-assessed.
And they believe Brookfield Renewables UK Ltd’s planning application should in the meantime be put on the back burner.
The couple are among 65 objectors to the 10, 150-metre high turbines the company wants to put up on a tract of hill land overlooking the north coast village.
The Morgans’ concern about the sea eagles – the UK’s largest bird of prey – is shared by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Mr Morgan and his wife (both 47) are bird lovers and have each made several sightings over the past couple of years.
He recalls the first time he saw a sea eagle winging its way above their house at Mary Bell’s Cottage last summer.
“I was outside looking inland towards the valley where the turbines are earmarked to go up,” he said.p “I saw an object coming towards me which was so big I initially thought it was a light aircraft.
“It was about 50 yards away when I realised what it was as I watched it follow the bay and fly out to sea.”
His wife and others in the village have seen a pair of sea eagles following the same route, including two spotted last month.
Mr Morgan, who runs a welding fabrication business, is concerned the sightings are not included in the ornithology study used to support the planning application.
“We’re not sure if there are any nests locally but these birds cover a hell of a distance and if you put these massive turbines on their flightpath, they are going to get killed.”
He adds: “We have asked the developers to revisit their assessment of impacts, because eagles are clearly foraging in the area.”
The response received last month has not given them cause for optimism.
“They (Brookfield) say they have forwarded the request to their ecology specialists but ‘to be aware, the application for the wind farm has already been submitted’.
“This does not sound hopeful”.
The couple point out that the Highland Raptor Study Group had previously been unaware of sea eagles in the area.
The Morgans also point to a research paper in the Journal of Wildlife Management which concludes that wind farms should be constructed outside the main distribution areas of white-tailed sea eagles.
They insist that since there are only believed to be 40 or so nesting pairs in Scotland, this restriction should apply to the Armadale scheme.
In its response to the application, the RSPB supports the need for a follow-up survey.
It states that a successful nest was found in 2020 about 11 kilometres from the site and that it is aware of an increase in white-tailed eagle flight activity in the area over the past couple of years.
The RSPB adds: “There have been increasing observations of both adults and juveniles by staff at the nearby RSPB Forsinard reserve and local residents have been increasingly reporting sightings to us.
“Birds will fly 10-20km to exploit the easiest sources of food available at different times of the year.”
The RSPB reported at least three collision incidents in Scotland of white-tailed eagles that have had injuries believed to be from turbine blades.
Concerned that potential impacts on the species have been ‘under-estimated’, the RSPB has asked Brookfield to carry out a new assessment.
The RSPB also calls for further studies on the impact of the turbines on species including the golden eagle, black and red-throated diver and common scoter.
It also wants four of the turbines to be refused consent as they are on ‘particularly sensitive’ tracts of blanket peat bog.
Brookfield defends its environmental impact assessment and insists neither residents, birdlife or the ecology would be unduly affected by the development.
Its bird studies were completed over two breeding seasons between 2017 and 2019.
Residents opposing the scheme claim the turbines will tower over the village; cause a nuisance with noise and shadow flicker; and damage tourism.
A Brookfield spokesperson said: “With the planning application now with the relevant authorities for determination, Armadale Wind Farm is pro-actively responding to representations from statutory consultees as they are submitted.
“An interim response has been provided to the Energy Consents Unit in July, and a further response will be compiled and published on the Energy Consents Unit’s portal when all remaining consultees have commented on the application in due course.”
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