Pentland Firth & Orkney Waters – Wave & Tidal Renewable Energy

Tagged with: Casework status: Open Casework type: Energy Casework type: Marine Site designations: SPA
Lighthouse on sea cliffs at Dunnet Head RSPB reserve, Caithness, near Thurso, Scotland


Pentland Firth & Orkney Waters offer significant renewable energy resources in the form of wave and tidal stream activity.

The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters (PFOW) covers an area off the north coast of Scotland that is of exceptional environmental quality. 

With the north Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east, these waters also offer significant renewable energy resources in the form of wave and tidal stream activity.

Together, the Scottish Government and industry have identified the opportunity for developing renewable marine energy projects in these waters. Industry support activity has been intensifying through the operations of the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) test facility and the creation of the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Energy Park. The first application for an array of tidal energy devices was submitted to Marine Scotland in 2012 and a further 10 are expected over the coming years as The Crown Estate deliver their commercial scale wave and tidal leasing round for the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters.

The emerging wave and tidal energy sector is part of the wider context of this region, where aquaculture, shipping, fishing and tourism activities are already established.


Why is it worth fighting for?

This site covers the Pentland Firth and the waters around Orkney. The marine and coastal environment of this region is rich and diverse, supporting a variety of important and often rare or vulnerable species and habitats.

The Caithness and Orkney coastlines are internationally important for migratory and breeding seabirds, including Atlantic puffins, black-legged kittiwakes, Arctic skuas and Arctic terns, razorbills, northern fulmars, common guillemots, storm petrels, great northern divers, Slavonian grebes and greater black-backed gulls. European shag colonies also exist on Sule Skerry and Sule Stack and the region's only gannet colony is located on Sule Stack.

In recognition of the internationally important numbers of seabird colonies and waders within this region, more than 13 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are designated on Orkney. Seven SPAs designated for migratory and breeding seabirds have been extended 2km offshore to cover important offshore feeding and loafing habitat and the North Caithness Cliffs SPA stretches along the north coast of Caithness.

The waters of the Pentland Firth and Isles of Orkney also support seals, whales, dolphins and porpoises and a number of fish species including herring, sandeels and basking shark. In addition to existing environmental designated sites, the Scottish Government are currently seeking to designate three Marine Protected Areas in and around Orkney, as part of the creation of an ecologically coherent network of protected areas across the seas of Scotland and the UK. The features of these protected sites include kelp and seaweed communities, Maerl beds, black guillemot and sandeels.

Take action for local wildlife

A view of the loch at Abernethy

You might not realise it, but you have the power to influence local decisions to protect the wildlife around you. We’ve produced a Wildlife Action Pack full of information to help you make a difference.

Black guillemot Cepphus grylle, adult, raindrops on plumage on rock, North Hill RSPB reserve, Papa Westray, Orkney

Our position

We recognise that climate change is already affecting birds and wildlife in the UK and globally and it threatens to drive future biodiversity loss unless urgent action is taken to reduce emissions and keep the world within 'safe' levels of climate change.

We therefore strongly support the UK's greenhouse gas reduction targets and recognise the critical role which renewable energy, including offshore wave and tidal power, will play in delivering them. We also acknowledge that renewable energy is part of a wider government package that prioritises energy savings, which will support the positioning of the UK and Scotland as a global leader in green growth.

Despite the benefits of renewables in combating an increase in climate change emissions, there remains the potential for new offshore renewable development to impact adversely on environmentally sensitive marine and coastal habitats and species, particularly if poorly located at sea or on land and if the design is inappropriate. It is essential that potentially challenging ecological issues are likely to need to be resolved first as Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters marine renewable projects progress. In addition, the potential cumulative environmental impacts of new proposals in combination with existing maritime activities must be a priority consideration for decision makers.

We will continue to engage with Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters developers and Marine Scotland (the licensing authority) to ensure any potential environmental sensitivities are identified as early as possible in the planning and development of marine renewable projects. We hope this will enable resolution where possible and ensure that only the most appropriate renewable energy projects can proceed, which should achieve a positive contribution to renewable energy capacity, emissions reductions and avoid damage to marine and coastal biodiversity.


  • September 2013 - MeyGen Ltd
    Scottish Ministers granted consent for Meygen's proposed 86MW tidal array. This is a phased consent enabling an initial deployment of six turbines in stage one. We had withdrawn our objection in June this year, following receipt of further environmental information. This included a paper which offered clarification on how the environmental assessment was undertaken. This enabled us to re-appraise the application and make a conclusion that there are no likely significant effects of the development on bird populations in the region. Following liaison with other environmental NGOs we were aware of the potential impacts on other species including marine mammals and migratory fish. We therefore support the decision to grant consent for only six turbines at stage 1, as this scale of development is unlikely to cause significant population impacts to these other species. However, we are aware the consent allows for additional deployment at subsequent stages and as the scale of the development increases the potential environmental risks may also increase. RSPB has requested to be engaged in the progress of this project through membership to the project Advisory Group. This group must be set up, by condition of consent, to support and advise on the preparation of a robust environmental management and monitoring programme. Delivery on the environmental monitoring and analysis of the initial deployment of tidal turbines is of paramount importance. This information will improve our understanding of the environmental effects of a novel technology, verify the conclusions of the environmental assessment and help foresee the likely effects of expansion of this development and other projects in the region.
  • 2013 - Pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Spatial Plan
    RSPB Scotland will be engaging in this pilot project which has been established by a working group comprising Marine Scotland, Highland Council and Orkney Islands Council. The purpose of the project is to develop a pilot non-statutory Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Spatial Plan. The pilot plan aims to promote the sustainable management and development of the marine environment and will incorporate economic, environmental and social considerations into marine development decision making.
  • Autumn 2012 - MeyGen Ltd
    Marine Scotland receives an application from MeyGen Ltd for an array of 86 tidal stream turbines to be located in the Inner Sound, south of Stroma. This application is the first commercial scale offshore renewable energy project in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters, with a capacity of 86MW. We objected to the proposal in October 2012 on the basis that there was a lack of certainty over the conclusions of the environmental assessment. We have asked for further information from the developer that could address our concerns, at which point we will review our objection.