Hoy Wind Farm - Closed Case

Tagged with: Casework status: Closed Casework type: Energy Habitats: Heathland Site designations: SPA Site designations: SSSI

Overview

RSPB Scotland is supportive of renewable energy, but we face climate and biodiversity crises, with huge losses of biodiversity happening in Scotland and globally. RSPB Scotland is supportive of renewable energy, but we face climate and biodiversity crises, with huge losses of biodiversity happening in Scotland and globally. Although the current proposal six turbine development would contribute towards mitigating climate change by providing capacity to generate around 28MW of renewable energy, the site is of great importance to nature. The predicted impacts are substantial and would result in an unnecessary and avoidable loss of species of conservation concern. The proposed development would also result in loss peatland habitats, itself a vital nature-based solution for to store carbon to help achieve net-zero emission targets.

RSPB Scotland objected to the proposal, due to the impacts on protected areas and birds, but Scottish Ministers have now granted consent for the development.

Hoy Windfarm.jpg

Outcome

On 21 December 2021 Scottish Ministers granted consent for the windfarm, contrary to the overall recommendation of the Reporter, appointed by the Scottish Government, who recommend planning permission be refused.

Despite our objection, the Reporter was satisfied there would not be an adverse affect on either the Hoy Special Protection Area (SPA) or the Scapa Flow proposed SPA. Subject to conditions, include a habitat management plan to secure blanket bog restoration and ornithological monitoring during the operational period, the reporter believed the proposed development would not be unacceptable in terms of impacts on birds. Although we acknowledge these conditions will, to some extent, help limit some impacts, we do not believe they are sufficient to alleviate our concerns.

Scottish Ministers gave considerable weight to the contribution of the project to the needs case for the interconnector, which would transport electricity to and from Orkney and the Scottish mainland, and climate change targets. A condition has been attached to the consent which prevents the windfarm being built until and unless OFGEM approve the final needs case for the interconnector project.

We are very pleased that the lifetime of the project has been limited to 25 years, and not in perpetuity as proposed by the applicant OIC. This would have been contrary to the local development plan and not allowed for a review of the circumstances after the period the 25-year period the environmental impact assessment considered.

Why is it worth fighting for?

The area is exceedingly important for a number of iconic species of conservation concern. The proposed windfarm site lies next to the extensive Hoy Special Protection Area (SPA), Hoy Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Hoy Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI). The first two designations recognise the international importance of the site for breeding birdlife and habitat respectively while the latter recognises the amazing geology as well as importance of the wildlife and habitats it hosts at a national level. Scapa Flow proposed Special Protection Area (pSPA) is also less than 2km away from the site. These protected sites reflect the unique and valuable wildlife that is present on Hoy.

The developer’s own assessment indicates that over a 25-year period there is a predicted loss of nine white tailed eagles, six hen harriers, 179 great skua and seven red-throated divers through collision. These numbers are concerning, especially when factored into the SPA species population modelling and when construction, cumulative and barrier impacts are also considered. In addition, there are predicted impacts from disturbance and displacement to these species as well as Arctic skua, curlew, and golden eagle. Hen harrier, Arctic skua and curlew are species on the red list of conservation concern while great skua are on the amber list. Arctic Skua, great skua and red-throated diver are also qualifying species of the Hoy SPA.

White-tailed eagle is also a nationally scare red list species. They only returned to Hoy in 2018 after a complete absence for 95 years. There is currently only one breeding pair this island, and although they nest some 5km from the application site it is within their territorial range. The predicted collision rate suggests a significant impact on this small local population.

Map

Our position

RSPB Scotland objected to the windfarm proposal due to the predicted impacts on protected sites and bird species.

The application by Orkney Isles Council (OIC) was for a six-turbine permanent wind farm development near Lyness on the island of Hoy, Orkney. It is one of three OIC proposed wind farm developments, all of which would contribute to the needs case for a new inter-connector between the mainland of Scotland and Orkney. We have serious concerns with the location and scale of impacts predicted for this development on Hoy’s wildlife.

The reasons for our objection included:

  • The predicted adverse impact to red throated divers which are qualifying features of the internationally designated sites Hoy Special Protection Area (SPA), and Scapa Flow proposed SPA.
  • The predicted adverse impact to great skua which are qualifying features of the internationally designated sites Hoy SPA
  • The predicted adverse impact to the regional white-tailed eagle population
  • The predicted adverse impact to hen harrier population on Hoy
  • Predicted significant impacts on nationally designated sites including Hoy Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and South Walls SSSI Fringe Local Nature Conservation Site (LNCS) associated with loss of habitat and disturbance.
  • Predicted loss of high-quality peatland habitat.

We were also concerned that a permanent planning permission was being sought but the impacts of the windfarm were only assessed for a 25-year period.

Wind farms can be an important part of mitigating climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting national renewable energy generation targets. We are however facing a parallel and linked loss in biodiversity. Action to combat climate change must not result in detriment to nature or significant greenhouse gas emissions. It is crucial that wind farm developments are carefully considered to ensure nature is protected and so that we fully realise the sustainability of renewable energy.

We will continue to monitor the progress of this, and other proposals on Orkney.

Timeline

  • December 2021
    Scottish Ministers disagree with the Reporter's recommendation, and grant planning permission subject to conditions highlighting, amongst other elements, the importance of the interconnector
  • September 2021
    The application is recommended for refusal but not because of its impact on birds and protected wildlife sites
  • May 2021
    RSPB Scotland objects to the proposed development due to unresolved concerns about the methods used and the predicated adverse impacts to birds, peatland habitat and designated areas
  • October 2020
    Application called in (at OIC request) to be determined by Scottish Ministers
  • September 2020
    Application submitted
  • June 2020
    RSPB Scotland responds to the pre-application consultation noting the changes to the design (number of turbines reduced from 30 to six) but continuing to raise concern about the scale and location of the proposed development.
  • May 2018
    RSPB Scotland responds to scoping response raising concerns about the scale and location of proposed development (then 30 turbines) due to its proximity to designated natural heritage sites, potential impacts to birds (particularly red-throated diver, great skua, arctic skua, hen harrier, merlin, white-tailed eagle and curlew), and siting on peatland habitats.

 

Further reading

Key species affected

 

Useful links

 

Reserves affected

The site is near the Hoy RSPB reserve – the breeding territory of the white-tailed eagle pair.