Hebridean eagle population at risk from turbine extension plans


RSPB Scotland has confirmed it is to object to a proposal for a significant extension to the south and west of the consented Muaitheabhal Windfarm on the Eisgein Estate in the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The charity has expressed deep concerns at the predicted impact that two already consented developments, Muaitheabhal and Muaitheabhal East, could have on Golden and White-tailed Eagles.

Eisgein estate is home to one of the highest densities of breeding Golden Eagles in Europe: it boasts an impressive 12–13 pairs. Current research suggests that the consented 39-turbine application has the potential to kill eight Golden and three White-tailed Eagles, as well as cause the likely displacement or loss of two Golden Eagle territories. Alarmingly, the newly proposed 12-turbine extension is estimated to have the potential to kill a further 12 eagles. In addition to collisions, research suggests that nest sites could be abandoned as the majority of proposed turbine placements are in close proximity to Golden Eagle eyries.

Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle: under threat from the new windfarm plans (Photo: Jimmy MacDonald)

The Eisgein Estate is located on the Pairc peninsula of Lewis, which has proved to be the most attractive area for the colonising White-tailed Eagle population in the Outer Hebrides. Experts fear the Eisgein Estate could become a sink for the species, with turbine casualties quickly being replaced by more naive individuals who succumb to the same fate. This process would limit future colonisation and result in a continual drain on the population.

Robin Reid, RSPB Scotland's conservation officer for the Western Isles, said: "This proposal shows a complete and utter disregard for the environment. Building wind turbines so close to breeding eagles could cause significant long-term damage to the local and national populations of these iconic species. We hope the Scottish Government will continue to give Scotland's eagles a home by rejecting this unacceptable application. There are more appropriate places for such developments in the Western Isles where the environmental impact would be much lower. For example, we recently worked with the developers to make the consented Stornoway windfarm acceptable. We strongly believe that until the consented developments on Eisgein Estate have been constructed and the effects monitored and analysed, no further windfarm development should be consented here."

This hotly debated topic follows the remarkable turbine-related demise of a White-throated Needletail on the Isle of Harris in June (see here) and a US-based study demonstrating that windfarm collisions in birds had been considerably underestimated.

Written by: RSPB