Strathy Wood - Closed Case

Tagged with: Casework status: Closed Casework type: Energy Megasites: Strathy Site designations: Ramsar site Site designations: SAC Site designations: SPA Site designations: SSSI

Overview

Scottish Ministers have now granted consent for the windfarm. Although this is disappointing, the originally proposal for 26 turbines would have had much more damaging impacts. The Scottish Government appointed Reporter advised that, with appropriate mitigation, significant effects on hen harrier and red-throated diver would be avoided.

Conditions have been attached to the consent, including those to try and prevent disturbance to hen harrier and ensure land is managed to create habitat for them.

Strathy Wood Wind Farm is an application for 13 turbines sited on peatland within Caithness and Sutherland Flow Country.

In 2013 E.ON submitted an application to the Scottish Government for a wind farm of 26 turbines. RSPB Scotland objected to the proposals because of concerns regarding adverse impacts to protected birds and sites. The proposals would have resulted in the construction of turbines and access roads within the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SPA (which is a protected area for internationally important populations of birds) and Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SAC (which is protected for its amazing peatland habitat).

In 2015 the Applicant reduced the number of turbines from 26 to 18 and all turbines were removed from the SPA and SAC. However, SNH asked for further information and objected to the proposals. Although we welcomed the reduction in turbines, we maintained our objection due to the risk to protected birds and habitats.

Further additional information was submitted in July 2019. The proposal was reduced to 13 larger turbines. On 19 September 2019 we submitted a letter of objection maintaining our concerns regarding unacceptable impact on the Caithness and Sutherland SPA. The impact of the proposal in addition to the windfarms which were granted at Strathy South and Strathy North is especially worrying. Strathy Wood is between the two already consented windfarms and would result in an almost continuous barrier for some key bird species, such as red throated divers.

In late 2019 the applicant submitted more information about what they think the impacts will be on red throated divers. They shared this with NatureScot, which then withdrew its objection in December 2020.

In 2021 the Applicant provided further information to try and address RSPB Scotland’s objection. Although we were satisfied that this addresses some concerns, we still objected due to impacts on hen harrier and red-throated diver.

As Highland Council objected to the proposal, it was passed to the Planning and Environmental Appeals Division of the Scottish Government (DPEA). An inquiry was held and the Reporter working for the DPEA advised that the development should be granted.  

Map

Why is it worth fighting for?

The area proposed for the windfarm is extremely important for wildlife. There is an internationally important area for birds, the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SPA, adjacent to the site to the east, south and north. We are particularly concerned about the impacts of the development on red throated divers and hen harriers, which are species of conservation concern which the SPA was designed for. We are concerned that the turbines would create a barrier for red-throated divers moving from lochens to other areas. The cumulative risk of hen harriers being killed when they fly into the turbine blades is extremely high and could have an impact on the population of the area.

Due to the importance of the SPA for birds, developers must demonstrate that there would not be any adverse impacts on the protected site and its species, if they cannot do this, it is unlikely the application could be approved.

The development area includes areas deep peat and blanket bog which is a very important habitat (listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive). It is also a very effective store for carbon, so when it is disturbed carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Although wind farms produce renewable energy, areas of deep peat should be avoided.

Outcome

We are disappointed Scottish Ministers have granted this development. We note conditions have been attached which aim to reduce the impacts on hen harrier. We will be interested to see the effects of habitat management promised as part of the proposal and the results of future bird monitoring, which should add to knowledge about the effects of wind farms on birds.

The full Inquiry report and decision can be viewed on the DPEA website.

Red-throated diver, adult swimming, Shetland Isles

Our position

RSPB Scotland is supportive of the development of renewable energy, but wind farms must be carefully sited to avoid negative impacts on sites and species of conservation importance.

We objected to windfarm developments at Strathy North and Strathy South which will potentially lead to collisions of birds using the area. Unfortunately, both these developments were consented by the Scottish Government.

We are concerned that the Strathy Wood proposals would also cause harm to protected sites and species and so have objected.

Timeline

  • December 2021
    Scottish Ministers grant consent for Strathy Wood Wind farm
  • April 2021
    Inquiry and hearing sessions were held to consider issues
  • February 2021
    RSPB Scotland responds to further information submitted by the Applicant. We maintain our objection on impacts on red-throated, hen harrier and are able to withdraw all other objection points.
  • October 2020
    RSPB Scotland confirmed that we maintain our objection in relation to red throated diver.
  • December 2019
    NatureScot withdraws their objection in relation to red-throated diver due to additional information they received from applicant.
  • September 2019
    RSPB Scotland maintained our objection to the proposal due to the likely unacceptable impacts on protected species and habitats.
  • July 2019
    Further information was submitted by the applicant (reduced proposed to 13 turbines).
  • April 2018
    Strathy South Wind Farm –33 turbines was consented at public local enquiry by Scottish Government.
  • July 2015
    We maintained our objection to a modified, 18-turbine proposal.
  • May 2015
    Further information was submitted by the applicant (This included the reduction of the number of turbines from 26 to 18 and removal of turbines in SPA and SAC).
  • January 2014
    We objected to a 26-turbine proposal.
  • November 2013
    The Applicant submitted an application to the Energy Consents Unit (ECU) for 26 wind turbines.
  • August 2011
    In our scoping response to a 28-turbine proposal we repeat our concerns.
  • September 2004
    We express concerns informally on a 20-turbine proposal here called Strathy Forest.

Further reading

Key species affected:

 

Reserves affected

RSPB’s Forsinard Flows nature reserve is next to the southern boundary of the application site.

 

Useful websites:

You can find official documentation on the application on the Highland Council website (using reference 13/04469/S36) or the Energy Consent Units website using reference (reference EC00005239).