Forth and Tay Wind Farms

Tagged with: Casework status: Open Casework type: Energy Casework type: Marine Megasites: Forth of Firth Site designations: Ramsar site Site designations: SAC Site designations: SPA Site designations: SSSI
Puffin peeking out from burrow

Overview

In 2014, four commercial scale offshore wind farms were granted consent in the Forth and Tay region – Neart na Gaoithe (450MW), Inch Cape (784MW), Seagreen Alpha and Bravo (1,050MW), which amounted to a maximum of 335 offshore turbines.

Unfortunately, in our view the consents represented too great a risk to many thousands of Scotland’s seabirds. The assessments estimated over a thousand gannets and hundreds of kittiwake, could be killed each year during the summer months alone and many hundreds of puffin could die as a result of losing important feeding areas. Countless other birds also pass through the area on migration, and these developments will undoubtedly impact them.  

RSPB Scotland legally challenged the decisions by Scottish Minister to grant these consents. The cases were heard in the Court of Session, Edinburgh in 2015 at the Outer House in which RSPB were successful, however this ruling was overturned on appeal by the Sottish Ministers in the Inner House. The legal challenge concluded in November 2017.

The 2014 consents are all live, however time has passed and the offshore wind technology has improved. Each of the three developers are therefore now progressing new applications to replace their existing consents and which would enable deployment of larger yet fewer offshore turbines. Applications for these new designs are expected for public consultation throughout the summer of 2018.

Map

Why is it worth fighting for?

The Forth and Tay coastal and offshore region is of national and international importance for seabirds and waterbirds. Home to the world’s largest northern gannet colony at the Bass Rock, to fantastic puffin, guillemot and razorbill colonies on the islands, including the Isle of May and the kittiwake colonies at Fowlsheugh to the north and St Abbs to the south. These populations make this region one of the best places in the UK for seabirds and it is duly protected by a wealth of nature conservation designations including national Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and international Special Protection Areas (SPA) under the European Birds Directive and as a Ramsar site, designated under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The offshore elements are also known to be important for seabirds and Scottish Ministers are currently progressing the designation of the Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrew’s Bay Complex proposed marine SPA. 

Offshore wind poses a significant risk to seabirds by causing direct mortality through collision and via indirect impacts of displacement from and changes to habitats that support seabirds and their prey species. These pressures cannot be totally avoided and are additional to those pressures which a number of seabird species are already facing from climate change, invasive species, pollution and other marine activities. Some, such as kittiwake, are experiencing long-term population declines and the additional pressure of three huge offshore wind farms will further exacerbate these declines and wholly undermine any attempts now and in the future to restore their populations.

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.

Razorbill Alca torda, in flight, long exposure to show movement, Ramsey Island RSPB reserve, Wales

Our position

We need to move to low carbon energy rapidly to tackle climate change – itself a major threat to wildlife, however, RSPB Scotland also strongly believe we must achieve this 'energy revolution' in harmony with nature. This means putting renewables in the right places, and rigorously assessing impacts. No development should be allowed to have a ‘free pass’ and these projects in the Forth and Tay present significant risks to some of our most important seabird populations that need to be adequately addressed. 

We have worked on the Firth of Forth projects for a decade to try and ensure that they progress without causing unacceptable harm to our internationally important seabird colonies. The proposed 'new design' applications offer the potential for reductions to be made in the scale of environmental impacts to seabirds, when compared to the original 2014 consented projects. However, in-combination the three sites still pose a huge risk to the regions seabird populations which could exacerbate the long-term declining trends of some species and a reduction in otherwise healthy populations of other species.

RSPB Scotland has submitted an objection to the first application for the 'new design' projects (Neart na Gaoithe). The in-combination impacts of the proposal, alongside the other two 'new design' projects amount to a loss of 1,300+ birds annually. This rate of mortality is estimated to result in the worlds' largest Northern Gannet colony at Bass Rock being 27% smaller in 50 years' time than it otherwise would be if the wind farms were not built. Similarly, kittiwake at the Forth Islands Special Protection Area (SPA) colony is expected to be 27% smaller and those at Fowlsheugh SPA 21.5% smaller. Furthermore, the razorbill population at Forth Islands are expected to be 7.9% smaller and at Fowlsheugh, 6% smaller.

We know how important renewable energy is for Scotland and the UK as a whole, for both people and nature, and we will continue to support it. We will also continue to fight for wildlife as it faces increasing and more complex pressures. These two things can, and must, go hand in hand in a sustainable society.   

Timeline

  • 12 May 2018
    RSPB Scotland objects to the Neart na Gaoithe application on account of the in-combiantion impacts of this and the other two offshore proposals on the Forth Islands and Fowlsheugh Special Protection Areas.

  • End 2017
    All three Forth and Tay developers are progressing ‘new design’ applications to replace their existing 2014 consents. 

  • 7 November 2017
    RSPB Scotland’s application to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Inner House judgement was refused today. Read the statement in response to this decision by the Supreme Court. 

  • 15 August 2017 
    RSPB Scotland apply directly to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal against the recent decision by the Inner House of the Court of Session on its Firth of Forth offshore wind farm judicial review. Read the statement on making this application.

  • 19 July 2017 
    Inner House of Court of session refused RSPB’s application to appeal their decision.

  • 12 June 2017 
    RSPB applied to Inner House of Court of Session for permission to appeal their decision on the Firth of Forth offshore wind farm judicial review to the Supreme Court.

  • 16 May 2017 
    The decision on the appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session was announced today. Read our initial response.

  • February 2017
    Hearing held on the Scottish Ministers' appeal to the Inner House.

  • August 2016
    Following a period of review the Scottish Ministers launched appeal proceedings against Lord Stewart’s ruling, taking this appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session. Preparations are now taking place and a hearing on the grounds of this appeal will be held in February 2017.

  • July 2016
    The courts ruled in RSPB Scotland’s favour concluding that the consents were flawed. Read the ruling.

  • June 2015
    A judicial review hearing was held in court on the last week of May to the first week of June. We are now awaiting a decision from the courts on our legal challenge of Scottish Minister's decisions.

  • 9 January 2015
    RSPB Scotland submitted a legal challenge of the decisions by Scottish Ministers on 10 October 2014 to grant consent for the four offshore windfarms in the Firths of Forth and Tay. The cases will be heard in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

    We have not taken this decision lightly but, having given serious consideration to these Decisions to grant consent for these offshore windfarms we have decided to take legal action. We have a proven track record of taking a stand for nature, on behalf of our members and the general public, to ensure that wildlife and the natural environment is properly safeguarded for the future. We only take legal challenges that raise important issues of public interest surrounding the protection of the UK's natural environment.

    Fortunately it is very rare that this is necessary and we have not had to take a legal challenge in Scotland for over 10 years. However, these decisions raise important questions about how the laws that are designed to protect our country's most important places for wildlife, and the birds that depend on them, are applied. If these Decisions are allowed to stand, they could have serious implications for how birds and important wildlife sites are protected across Scotland, the UK and beyond. The vast majority of renewable energy developments pose no significant threat to birds or other wildlife. We continue to support the development of carefully sited and designed renewables, including offshore wind. However, this must not be at the cost of the environment they are intended to protect so individual developments must be sited to avoid significant harm.

  • October 2014
    Scottish Ministers granted consent for four commercial scale offshore wind farms in the Firth of Forth and Tay region. The consents were made despite RSPB Scotland's objections. RSPB's position is supported by SNH and JNCC. RSPB Scotland is reviewing the content and detail of the decisions to inform our decision as to what our next steps may be.

  • March 2014
    Following an extensive period of dialogue with developers and Marine Scotland/ Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB Scotland submitted a letter of objection to all four proposals on the grounds that the predicted environmental impacts were unacceptable for each project on its own and all projects in combination. See link for a copy of RSPB's objection letter.

  • Inch Cape – July 2013
    Application submitted for a maximum capacity of 1050MW and 213 turbines.

  • Seagreen Alpha & Bravo – October 2012
    Seagreen Ltd submitted two applications for Alpha and Bravo offshore windfarms each with a maximum 75 turbines and 525MW capacity in October 2012 with an addendum in October 2013. Both applications are supported by a single Environmental Statement and are located to the northern end of the Round 3 lease site

  • Neart na Gaoithe – July 2012
    Application submitted July 2012 with addendum submitted June 2013. Proposal for 450MW capacity with maximum 90 turbines.