In January 2021 an application was made to Shetland Islands Council for a vertical launch spaceport. The proposal includes 3 launch pads which would be used to propel small satellites into space. A maximum of 30 launches are proposed in a year, including during the bird breeding season. The applicant says that the longest rockets fired from the site would be 30m in length.
The applicant has submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with the application which assesses if there would be likely to be 'significant' effects from the development, including on the environment, habitats and birds. They have also looked at other aspects such as carbon impacts and how many jobs might be created if it went ahead.
RSPB Scotland has objected to the application due to concerns that the noise from the rocket launches will impact on protected breeding birds. The Hermaness, Saxa Vord and Valla Field Special Protection Area (SPA) is about 3.79km from the nearest proposed launch pad. We do not think that the application has demonstrated that the development would not adversely affect this SPA (which is a protected area for internationally important populations of birds). In addition, we think they need to provide more information on how they would avoid harmful impacts on two species of rare birds which breed on Unst.
We have also raised some concerns about their proposals to offset impacts on peat, carbon emissions and birds
As a nature conservation organisation, RSPB Scotland decided to object after careful consideration of the application and EIA. We are aware that such a development would have the potential to create jobs and economic development in this remote part of Scotland. However, we believe that our most precious areas and at-risk birds must be protected for future generations. We also note that wildlife tourism and bird watching are very important for the economy on Unst.