A busy year
Making islands safe for seabirds
This year we were delighted that the Shiant Isles were declared officially rat-free thanks to an EU LIFE+ funded four-year partnership project between us, the Nicolson family – custodians of the islands – and Scottish Natural Heritage to restore the islands as a secure haven for nesting seabirds.
A month-long intensive check in February found no sign of rats. This means that none have been recorded there for two years, the internationally-agreed criterion for rat-free status. The focus now shifts to Orkney, where the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and Orkney Islands Council are working in partnership to safeguard the future of Orkney's internationally-important wildlife by eradicating non-native invasive stoats.
A busy year for casework
The past year has been a busy one for our casework teams, who have been working hard to fight damaging developments that threaten Scotland's precious wildlife.
Sadly, the long-running cases of four offshore wind farms located in the Firths of Forth and Tay came to a very disappointing end. Last year, we were initially successful in quashing the Scottish Minister’s consents for these projects by judicial review. Although the RSPB is supportive of renewable energy to tackle climate change, these projects are predicted to cause enormous harm to seabirds, including thousands of predicted turbine collisions of gannets, gulls, puffins and other auks found at the Bass Rock, other Forth islands and seabird colonies along the coast, including our Fowlsheugh reserve.
However, Scottish ministers successfully appealed, with the Inner House of the Court of Session ruling in their favour in May. We applied to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Inner House judgement but, much to our disappointment, it was turned down. Despite this setback, we continue to believe that our original grounds for the case are strong. Furthermore, we are extremely concerned about the precedents that this might set, not just for protected seabird colonies in the Firth of Forth, but for how it could substantially reduce protection for key places for wildlife elsewhere in Scotland and the UK.
Regardless of the legal arguments, the time taken to go through the courts has allowed technology to develop considerably. This means that the turbines which may now be constructed are likely to be larger and fewer in number, potentially reducing the impacts on seabirds.
Standing up for Coul Links
Further north, news of an application to construct a golf course on Coul Links in Sutherland was met with horror and determination by a coalition of conservation bodies, including the RSPB. The site is one of Scotland’s last remaining intact dune habitats, home to curlews, oystercatchers, dunlins, bar-tailed godwits, ringed plovers and terns, while large flocks of eiders overwinter just offshore. Wild cats and pine martens have both been recorded and its special plants include sea centaury, purple milk-vetch, moonwort and frog orchid.
Not surprisingly, the area (including neighbouring Loch Fleet) is heavily designated – both as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and internationally as a Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site. We will continue to fight this damaging development.