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.