Forth and Tay Wind Farms

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

Overview

In the last decade, there has been a huge expansion of offshore wind development. In the Forth and Tay area, there are four commercial scale wind farms with consent plus two in the pipeline and a further three sites identified for development in the Sectoral Marine Plan for Offshore Wind.

We need to move to low carbon energy rapidly to tackle climate change – itself a major threat to wildlife. RSPB Scotland however strongly believe we must achieve this transition in harmony with nature. This means putting renewable technology in the right places, rigorously assessing potential impacts and monitoring the ongoing impacts of consented development so we can learn for the future.

We are continuing to work with developers in the Forth and Tay region to ensure development is appropriately sited, designed and monitored to avoid significant harm.

Map

Why is it worth fighting for?

The Forth and Tay area is home to a fantastic abundance of wildlife. The area includes the world’s largest northern gannet colony at Bass Rock; kittiwake colonies at Fowlsheugh to the north and St Abbs to the south; and gannet, kittiwake, puffin, guillemot and razorbill colonies on the Isle of May and other Forth Islands. 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.

In December 2020, the importance of the area for birds was further recognised when the area of sea along the Forth and Tay coastline was designated as a marine SPA. This new SPA, the Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex, reaches from Arbroath in the North to St Abb's Head in the South and encompasses the Firth of Forth, the outer Firth of Tay and St Andrews Bay. It is considered one of the largest and most diverse marine bird concentrations in Scotland, providing feeding ground for thousands of gannets, kittiwake and puffin and an important refuge for migratory birds.

Offshore wind poses a significant risk to seabirds. Directly there is a risk of mortality through collision. Indirectly, there are risks associated with displacement from foraging areas and changes to the prey species distribution. Extra energy costs from having to travel further either to avoid windfarms or find prey, the additional time spent flying and a change in food can have knock-on effects for body mass and adult survival as well as nest attendance and chick feeding. These pressures are additional to those which a number of seabird species are already facing from climate change, predation by invasive species, pollution and other marine activities. Some, such as kittiwake, are already experiencing long-term population declines and the additional pressure of offshore wind farms could 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 know how important renewable energy is for Scotland, the UK as a whole and the future of our planet. Action to combat climate change is vital for both people and nature and we will continue to support it. We will also however continue to fight for wildlife as it faces increasing and more complex pressures. Renewable energy provision and protecting nature can, and must, go hand in hand in a sustainable society.  

The table below shows the consented, pipeline and pre-pipeline commercial scale wind farm projects in the Forth and Tay area. We are currently working on the Berwick Bank and Marr Bank applications, talking with the developer prior to them submitting applications and providing comments on the pre-application submissions relating to environmental impact (EIA) and habitats (HRA) assessments.

We are particularly concerned about the cumulative impact of offshore wind development. Each project places individual pressures on the environment and across multiple developments these pressures add up. It was for this reason that in 2015 we brought a legal challenge against the decision to consent the four Forth and Tay windfarms (Neart na Gaoithe, Inch Cape, Seagreen Alpha and Seagreen Bravo). The assessments estimated over a thousand gannets and hundreds of kittiwakes could be killed each year during the summer months alone and many hundreds of puffins could die as a result of losing important feeding areas. Though initially we were successful in our challenge, the ruling in our favour was later overturned following an appeal by the Sottish Ministers and all four developments were allowed to go ahead.

Although we were disappointed in this conclusion, we continue to work constructively with the developers and the Scottish Government to try to ensure that the major impacts of the consented projects on seabirds are mitigated as much as possible.

A lack of data and gaps in our understanding, especially of the long term impacts of offshore wind on seabirds remains a concern. We are pleased to be involved in the monitoring of the consented developments through the Forth and Tay Regional Advisory Group (FTRAG). This group was established as a condition of the four consented projects. It seeks to ensure that appropriate and effective monitoring is undertaken, aims to encourage collaboration in monitoring and provides advice to the Scottish Ministers on research, monitoring and the effectiveness of mitigation measures. We hope that the creation of such groups and discussing concerns will result in a better understand of and better outcomes for our natural environment.

We also we welcomed the recognition in the 2020 Sectoral Marine Plan that Scotland’s breeding seabird colonies are approaching environmental limits. All three sites allocated for further offshore wind development around the Forth and Tay area are subject to ornithological constraint. Two require completion of further regional-level surveys before development can proceed while in the third allocated site, development should not proceed until enough evidence on the environmental capacity for seabirds exists to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

Timeline

  • September 2020
    SSE submits an Environmental Impact Assessment scoping report to Marine Scotland in relation to Berwick Bank Offshore Windfarm.

  • 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.