Stornoway Windfarm (2019 Application) - Closed Case

Tagged with: Casework status: Closed Casework type: Energy Site designations: Ramsar site Site designations: SPA

Overview

We objected to an application by Lewis Wind Power for a wind farm to the south west of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. We think that the proposal would have an unacceptable impact on nationally important populations of red-throated diver, hen harrier, white-tailed eagle and golden eagle on Lewis. The proposal is also adjacent to the Lewis Peatland Special Protection Area with impacts predicted for the red-throated divers and golden eagles using this area.

The applicant was required to calculate how many birds are predicted to be killed through collisions with the turbine blades. These calculations predicted that four hen harriers, 10 red-throated divers and 16 white-tailed eagles and eight golden eagles would be killed by this windfarm alone over 25 years. When considered in combination with other wind farms in the area, the impacts would be even greater and would affect future populations of these bird species over a large area. The turbines and roads would also cause disturbance to red-throated diver and hen harrier as some are proposed very close to nest and roost sites.

The 2019 proposal is for the same site on which a 36 turbine windfarm was granted consent in 2012. Compared to the 2012 scheme, the more recent proposal has a different layout with taller turbines (180m to tip) capable of generating more electricity. RSPB Scotland withdrew our objection to the old scheme in 2012 after six turbines, which were likely to have the greatest collision risk for golden eagle, were removed. You can read about our work on this case here. We knew then that the site was very sensitive and it would be a challenge to develop due to the protected birds on and near the site, but a lot has changed on the site since 2012.

The predicted impacts for the 2019 proposal on birds were much greater than those predicted for the consented scheme. More birds are using the site, the layout has changed and the proposed turbines are larger. The 2019 application was originally for 35 turbines, but the applicant removed two of the turbines, acknowledging these would have a particularly bad impact on nesting red throated divers and foraging golden eagles on the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area. They also carried out more assessment on the likely impacts on golden eagles and provided more information on how they would avoid disturbance to birds during construction. However, these changes did not go far enough and we fought, unsuccessfully, for further turbines to be removed.

Outcome

Scottish Ministers have decided to grant consent for the development, without the removal of any further turbines. They have recognised that it will result in some significant effects on birds. Although they have considered the objection from RSPB Scotland and the local Raptor Study Group, they have given more weight to the advice provided by NatureScot as they are a key statutory advisor. They have decided that, after considering the advice of NatureScot and the benefits of the proposed Development, on balance, the 'impacts on ornithology are acceptable.'

Ministers have attached a number of conditions to the consent, including conditions that require the developer to submit proposals to manage access and construction to try to minimise the impact on birds and the environment. The developer will also need to monitor the impacts the windfarm has on birds. Hopefully this will at least add to our understanding of the impacts of onshore windfarms on birds.

Why is it worth fighting for?

This area is extremely important for a number of iconic bird species of conservation concern. The application site is adjacent to the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area, an internationally important area for birds including golden eagles, red-throated and black-throated divers. The Western Isles currently supports an important percentage of the UK white-tailed eagle, red-throated diver, golden eagle and hen harrier populations (approximately 30%, 25%, 20% and 10% respectively). As these species are scarce or in decline in other parts of the UK, the Western Isles populations is extremely important for these birds and impacts here would be nationally significant.

Since 2015 the application site has become home to the first recorded population of breeding hen harriers on Lewis. There are now approximately 10 pairs of hen harrier breeding in this area and two communal roosts have been located. This population is nationally important and comprises more than 1% of the UK population and extending the breeding range of the hen harrier to the north western edge of Scotland.

The Lewis white-tailed eagle population has almost tripled since 2011. This is great news and means more birds use the area, but this means unfortunately more risk of birds colliding with the turbines blades and being killed. The number of red-throated divers breeding at the site has also increased and collision risk to golden eagles remains high.

The developer’s own assessment predicts that 16 white tailed eagles, 12 red-throated divers, eight golden eagles and four hen harriers are likely to be killed by the proposal through turbine collisions over 25 years.

 

 Golden eagle at nest

Our position

RSPB Scotland is supportive of renewable energy development, but it needs to be carefully located to avoid unacceptable impacts on wildlife. We are facing a twin climate and nature crisis, with huge losses of biodiversity in Scotland and worldwide. We need action to meet these challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss in tandem. The current proposal would contribute to mitigating climate change through the provision of renewable energy but at the unnecessary and avoidable expense of species of high conservation concern.

We are concerned about the high numbers of birds that are predicted to be killed by the turbine blades and the potential loss of available habitat if eagles, divers and harriers are displaced by the windfarm. Some of the turbines would be positioned very close to hen harrier nest sites and roosting areas and very close to red-throated diver nest sites.

We welcomed the applicant’s submission of additional information and the removal of two turbines, taking the total number proposed down to 33. However, we asked that a further six turbines were removed as we think these are too close to harrier and diver nest sites and close to a communal harrier roost and are likely to disturb these birds. The removal of these turbines would have also reduced collision risk. 

Unfortunately, the applicant did not remove any further turbines and Scottish Ministers have now granted consent for 33 turbines. We hope that conditions attached to the consent will help to reduce disturbance and increase understanding of how the windfarm affects birds in the area, but there will still be significant impacts on birds of high conservation concern.

In this video, our former Senior Conservation Officer, Robin Reid, explains our concerns and how we need to get the balance right between addressing climate change and protecting wildlife.

Map

Timeline

  • January 2022
    Scottish Ministers grant consent for a 33 turbine development
  • June 2021
    RSPB Scotland submits further comments regarding concerns over the renewal of the previous windfarm consent on the site
  • March 2021 - Stornoway Community Council object to the proposal
  • February 2021 - Comhairle nan Eilean Siar say they have no objection to the windfarm.
  • January 2021 - RSPB Scotland submits a response to the applicant’s technical note.
  • December 2020 - NatureScot responds to additional information and raise no objection. RSPB Scotland responds to additional information, maintain our objection and ask for turbines 7, 10, 15, 17, 18, 23 to be removed.   
  • November 2020 
    Further additional information is submitted by the applicant relating to peat, ornithology matters and the deletion of two turbines (Turbines 24 and 34).
  • April 2020
    RSPB Scotland maintains our objection due to predicted impact on nationally and internationally important birds.
  • March 2020
    The applicant submits additional information in relation to predicted impacts on birds.
  • July 2019
    NatureScot (then called Scottish Natural Heritage) object as the proposal could affect nationally and internationally important natural heritage interests and requested further information.
  • June 2019
    RSPB Scotland objected to the proposal and requested more information.
  • May 2019
    Application for up to 35 wind turbines is submitted to the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit.
  • August 2018
    RSPB Scotland responded to a scoping consultation for a new proposal on the site raising concerns over potential impacts on hen harriers that had started breeding on the site.

 

Further reading