Windfarm consent could seriously damage internationally protected habitat


RSPB Scotland is extremely concerned at a decision to grant consent to a wind farm within a designated Special Protection Area (SPA) on the island of Lewis. Officials at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Environment Committee today approved the Pentland Road Windfarm on the island — a six-turbine 13-megawatt development that sits within the boundary of the Lewis Peatlands SPA to the southwest of the island's capital, Stornoway. It will now go to a meeting of the full council next week, but is expected to meet little resistance.

Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle, Loch Druidibeg, S.Uist, Outer Hebrides (Photo: Andrew Stevenson)

Despite guidelines from SNH calling for raptors to be observed for at least a year to properly determine flight habits, the developer's Golden Eagle survey was conducted over two months. A one-day survey was conducted by local SNH officers in 2003. After finding only two pairs of grouse within 750 metres of the proposed turbines, SNH concluded that this would not represent a significant loss of the eagle's prey, and therefore that "the predicted core range stated in the ES does not reflect the eagles' actual range use".

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Martin Scott, Western Isles conservation officer for RSPB Scotland, said: "We are extremely disappointed at this decision, which is clearly based on poor, or completely absent, background information. It is an awful irony that such positive steps were made in protecting the Lewis Peatlands SPA from the larger Lewis Windpower proposal, and yet now a smaller development can sneak through and have a negative impact on this fantastic wildlife habitat. We will be scrutinising this decision in great detail, as we believe that there were alternatives available to placing this development on an internationally important designated wildlife site. A number of years have elapsed since this proposal was openly looked at and discussed and it is hugely disappointing to now witness it being driven through. Much has changed in recent years, but this has not been reflected in the planning process and decision today."

Aed├ín Smith, head of planning and development at RSPB Scotland, said: "We desperately need more renewable energy developments to help tackle climate change — but renewable energy can and must be delivered in a way that avoids harming our most important places for wildlife. This is simply the wrong place for a wind farm. There are enough right places."

He added: "Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are some of our most important places for birds. SNH have quite rightly insisted on the rigorous assessment of other proposals that could affect SPAs. We were therefore very surprised and disappointed at the relatively poor-quality assessment accepted in this case and we will be looking at the decision very closely over the next few days."

RSPB Scotland has produced a bird sensitivity map to help developers and planning authorities avoid the most sensitive sites for birds. It is available here: www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/policy/windfarms.