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Save the Lewis peatlands

Dunlin walking in rough grass

Image: Chris Gomersall

22 April 2008: Update

We welcome the news that the Scottish Government has turned down the Lewis Wind Power proposal.

This is an extremely commendable decision by the Scottish Government that is absolutely right for Scotland. It sends a very strong message that in meeting our ambitious, and welcome, renewable targets we do not have to sacrifice our most important environmental resources. The Government has made it clear, in repeated statements on this issue, that renewables must be delivered, but not at any price. There is clear evidence that we can meet our targets many times over without destroying our designated sites and most of the renewable energy industry operates on this principle. We hope that Lewis Wind Power now recognise that this is an inappropriate site for a wind farm and we seek reassurances from them that they will not simply seek to continue pushing modified versions of the same proposal in the same location. We are, however, very willing to work with them to identify new areas in Scotland that would be suitable for renewable energy development
(Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland). 

Many thanks to all of our members and supporters who registered their concerns about this potentially very damaging windfarm!

We are committed to tackling climate change. Whilst we support government targets to generate more electricity from renewable sources (the UK government aims to achieve 15% by 2015 and the Scottish Executive 40% by 2020), we cannot support any renewable generation proposal which would have a significant and adverse impact on wildlife and habitats, particularly sites which are protected by law specifically for their wildlife value.

The Lewis wind power proposal

Whenever we are consulted about a proposed wind farm development, we encourage developers to avoid important sites for wildlife and offer advice on how to minimize any adverse effects a development will have. We have also made the case for government at the UK and Scottish level to look more holistically at how renewable energy targets can be achieved without destroying our natural heritage.

Until a strategic approach is taken to the planning of renewable energy developments, long advocated by the RSPB, we will continue to oppose individual proposals  which threaten precious wildlife sites.

Lewis Wind Power (Amec and British Energy) were proposing to build a large-scale development on the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area - declared to protect the many species of birds that nest on, or use the area.

Allowing a development of this scale to go ahead on a Special Protection Area for birds could put at risk the entire European network of protected wildlife sites.

On 12 December 2006, a revised proposal for the Lewis Wind Farm was submitted to the Scottish Government. Despite the developers' attempts to reduce some of the negative impacts of the proposal on birds and their habitat, we remained gravely concerned.

We strongly believe this development should not go ahead. There would be significant negative impacts on the birdlife, and the peatlands.

Allowing a development of this scale to go ahead on a Special Protection Area for birds could put at risk the entire European network of protected wildlife sites.

The development remained huge in scale: 181 wind turbines, each 140 metres tall, mounted in concrete bases of  up to 1,000 cubic metres, on an area designated for its special wildlife. There would be 30 kilometres of overhead electric cable supported by 137 pylons (each 27 m high), and a similar length of underground cable; plus roads, quarries and no fewer than 8 electrical substations.

Birds threatened by the development included golden eagles, red-throated and black-throated divers, and merlins.

We were especially concerned about impacts on dunlins and golden plovers, which breed here in high densities. It is hard to see how serious impacts on these birds can be avoided.

The moor is a very special place, both in national and international terms. The fragile peatland habitat (blanket bog) is found only in a few areas in the world. Although the turbines could be taken down at the end of the development's 20-year life span, the supporting infrastructure would have caused irreversible damage to the structure of the peat, altering the water pattern and soil make-up forever.

One of the reasons put forward to justify this massive development was that it would bring an interconnector allowing electricity to be exported from the Western Isles to the mainland. This would enable the islands to be developed as a renewable energy powerhouse, creating local employment and bringing much-needed income to the community.

We need renewables, but there are viable alternatives to this development, alternatives which would bring an interconnector.

The RSPB has objected to this wind farm in the strongest terms. Further details about our concerns, our full objection and supporting evidence can be downloaded from the link on this page. We are waiting to hear from the Scottish Executive whether a Public Inquiry will be held.