RSPB Scotland has greeted with disappointment the Scottish Government’s consent to the construction of 103 turbines by the Viking Energy development on Shetland.
Whilst RSPB sees the developer as having made welcome and considerable effort to reduce the potential impact of the initial proposal, reducing the number of turbines from an initial proposal of 200 to 103, it believes that the scale of the development should have been reduced still further to reduce the risk of harm to rare species.
These include whimbrel and red throated divers, for which Shetland is a UK stronghold.
The development will also have major adverse impacts on important peat land habitats. This damage could have been minimised if the overall scale of the development had been reduced further.
Aedán Smith, Head of Planning and Development at RSPB Scotland, says: ‘We recognise that Viking Energy has made significant efforts to reduce the direct impact of this development on Shetland’s unique wildlife.
‘The development will make a welcome contribution to meeting our ambitious renewables targets in Scotland, and will help to meet the challenge of climate change.
‘However, the developers and Scottish Ministers should have gone much further to try and ensure that any negative consequences would be minimised, and it is disappointing that they have decided to risk the Shetland environment, as well as birds like whimbrel, with such a large scale proposal in their heartland.
‘It is now absolutely critical that this development includes significant long term investment in research and habitat enhancement to make sure that the negative impacts on Shetland’s wildlife can be both offset and significantly reduced.
‘There are significant opportunities to deliver environmental enhancement across Shetland which will benefit wildlife and tourism. We look forward to working with the Viking developers to deliver this.’
Shetland is one of the most important areas for breeding birds in the UK, with many species protected under both the Scottish and EU Birds Directives.
The development site is in the core range of breeding merlin and red-throated divers and is particularly important for nesting whimbrel. Over 90% of the UK population nest on Shetland. Other species include Golden plover and Arctic skua.
We were aware of an apparent internal contradiction in the RSPB Scotland statement, with Aedan Smith saying above: ‘It is now absolutely critical that this development includes significant long term investment in research and habitat enhancement to make sure that the negative impacts on Shetland’s wildlife can be both offset and significantly reduced’.
This did not quite square with a footnote to the statement which said: ‘Research has shown that Scotland’s renewable energy targets can be met without harming Scotland’s most important places for wildlife’.
Smith is calling for research which the statement says already exists.
Form our own ongoing work in this field, the weight lies with Mr Smith’s pressing of the need for research.
We have, however, asked RSPB Scotland to point us to the research sources dealing, particularly, with the impact on marine mammals of marine turbines and of offshore wind turbines.
We are not aware of a substantial body of research results in these matters.
We are aware that impacts on the full spectrum of marine species needs serious researching but focused our request on marine mammals since they are likely to be an early focus for such research.