Saundby Wind Farm

Tagged with: Casework status: Closed Casework type: Energy
Flooded fields, Beckingham Marshes RSPB reserve, Nottinghamshire

Overview

A proposal for wind turbines close to Beckingham Marshes nature reserve to make sure local wildlife and our own reserve management objectives are not harmed.

A renewable energy company, Partnerships for Renewables (PfR), has proposed a large-scale wind farm on arable farmland immediately south of our Beckingham Marshes reserve in Nottinghamshire’s Trent valley, near Gainsborough.

The development will involve up to six large (133m) wind turbines.The closest one would be around 380 metres away from the southern edge of our reserve (though separated from it by a busy road and a line of trees).

The land proposed for the wind farm development is owned by the Environment Agency and forms part of the Beckingham Flood Storage Reservoir. The Environment Agency also owns the land at RSPB Beckingham Marshes - we have a long-term lease agreement with them to create and manage the nature reserve. 

Map

Why is it worth fighting for?

Like many cases we are involved in, this was not a black-and-white matter of simply objecting to a proposal.

We are consulted on hundreds of wind energy proposals annually. We examine every case on its own merits. We object if we believe important bird populations or the habitats which they rely on are likely to be under threat.

This case was slightly unusual because we are a neighbouring land manager, responsible for some locally important habitats and bird populations which potentially could be affected by the development, for example through collision risk or visual disturbance. 

Our Beckingham Marshes reserve is still in its infancy. We were granted planning permission in 2010 to carry out engineering works to raise water levels and create lots of shallow wet areas to attract breeding waders like lapwings and curlews, and wintering ducks like wigeon and teal. In autumn 2012, a short trail and a viewpoint for visitors was officially opened.

It's a relatively small and isolated wet grassland creation project set in the huge floodplain of the Trent valley. This is one of the first such projects along the Trent and it's important, not just in its own right, but as a demonstration of what could be achieved elsewhere in this heavily modified landscape. 

Birds and other wildlife are already responding to the newly created wetlands. Around 10 pairs of lapwings bred here in 2012/13 and, even more encouragingly, curlews and snipe were both seen using the reserve in the breeding season, though so far have not been proved to breed here. All breeding waders of wet grasslands have declined significantly in Nottinghamshire. Curlews and snipe could be at risk of going extinct as breeding species in the area, so this is a really positive result so early in the project.

Willow works and roadside verge wildflowers, Beckingham Marshes RSPB reserve

Our position

Climate change is the biggest long-term global threat to wildlife.

In some parts of the world, species are already going extinct because of climate change, some British wildlife is also suffering. For example, many breeding waders of wet grassland have been hit by successive spring floods and some seabird colonies have failed to breed successfully because of a lack of their favourite sand eel food, which may be due to warming sea temperatures. This is why we support renewable energy developments in principle, including wind farms.

However, we always look at every case on its own merits. We do object if important wildlife and habitats would be harmed (for examples, see some of the other wind energy cases on these web pages). Our position on any case is informed by sound science and focuses on the nature conservation issues.

Poorly designed and sited wind farms can pose a threat to birds from collisions, by disturbance and by habitat destruction. In this case, the wind farm would be on arable farmland and habitat loss here will have little impact on bird populations.

We have been discussing this proposal with the Environment Agency and Partnerships for Renewables (PfR) since 2010. 

PfR met all our requests in terms of information collected about birds. This included breeding and wintering bird surveys and surveys of bird flight movements in the area by day and night. They also studied the possible effects of the turbines on the future nature conservation value of RSPB Beckingham Marshes – ie on the bird populations which we hope and predict will build up in years to come as the still-new habitats mature and develop. This was an unusual step - most Environmental Impact Assessments only consider the current state of the environment.

PfR also did a collision risk analysis based on many hours of local bird surveys, taking into account the collective experience from studies of many wind farms in the UK and abroad. We agree with the conclusions of this work, which suggested the numbers of birds killed by collision would be very low and would not be a significant threat to bird populations.

We cannot be sure the proposed wind farm will disturb wetland birds like curlews and snipe, or wintering wildfowl, taking into account the separation distance between the proposed wind farm and the habitats these birds favour in the area. However, a small risk remains that without mitigation, there will be an impact.

This uncertainty stems partly from the fact the research on impacts of wind farms on breeding waders was done in wide open upland environments, not in a lowland floodplain criss-crossed by roads, hedges and pylons and dotted with other huge man-made structures like power stations. Therefore, we asked PfR to pay for some habitat improvements locally to mitigate the remaining risk that there will be a disturbance effect on the reserve.

Why we chose not to object

In the light of the survey results, and subject to the proposed mitigation measures, we do not believe the proposed wind farm will impact significantly on local wildlife or the conservation interest of RSPB Beckingham Marshes, now or in the future. We therefore decided not to object in principle, subject to a number of conditions. These include:

  • no northward movement of the turbine closest to the reserve boundary
  • a copy of the Bird Monitoring Plan and monitoring outcomes to be shared with the RSPB
  • a bat monitoring programme to be put in place
  • assurance that the applicant will fund the proposed habitat enhancement measures to the existing reserve
  • scope to increase mitigation and compensation delivery if warranted by the monitoring reports - no construction to be carried out during the breeding season or before an approved Construction Drainage Plan and a Construction Environmental  Management Plan are in place.

We fully appreciate some local people probably have concerns about the effects of the wind farm on their properties and the local landscape. But as a nature conservation organisation, the RSPB has no expertise on these subjects and therefore did not comment on them. These issues and many others will be considered (if relevant) by the planning authority before it makes its decision.

Timeline

  • September 2015
    After the Government reduces financial incentives for onshore wind energy development, the planning application is withdrawn.
  • June 2014
    RSPB responded to Nottinghamshire County Council consultation.
  • May 2014
    Nottinghamshire County Council consulted on planning application by PfR for a six-turbine wind farm.
  • July 2013
    A fourth meeting between PfR and the RSPB addressed the final proposed design and layout of the wind farm and options for mitigation.
  • November 2012
    RSPB Beckingham Marshes reserve was officially opened, with a short new visitor trail and viewing platform.
  • August 2012
    We held a site visit with PfR and the Environment Agency’s land agent to show them our plans for the reserve first hand.
  • May 2012
    A third meeting between PfR and the RSPB confirmed that the standard of bird survey data collection met our requirements.
  • 2011-2012
    A full year of bird surveys was carried out, including surveys to detect night-time bird movements along the valley.
  • May 2011
    Consultation on the scope of the Environmental Impact Assessment - we responded with comments on the bird surveys we expected to see carried out.
  • February 2011
    PfR held a public exhibition at Beckingham Village Hall.
  • January 2011
    Second meeting between PfR and the RSPB was held, to discuss the details of the proposals and future consultation.
  • September 2010
    PfR announced their proposal publicly.
  • July 2010
    We met with Partnerships for Renewables (PfR) for the first time and outlined the broad issues to be considered.
  • April 2010
    First consultation meeting took place between the Environment Agency and the RSPB.

Outcome

As explained earlier, this was a complex and finely balanced case. 

On the one hand, the fact the application has been withdrawn certainly simplifies our choices about future management and development of Beckingham Marshes as a wonderful home for nature in one of our high priority landscapes – the Trent and Tame River Valleys Futurescape. 

On the other hand, we believe climate change is the greatest threat facing nature and society today. The predicted impacts of climate change demand a concerted, ambitious mitigation response which includes development of a wide range of renewable energy sources including onshore wind. So it's disappointing that a lack of financial support by the government has brought about the end not just of this proposal but many others around the UK, where these would have had no significant impact on nature.

Download

A letter stating the RSPBs stake in the area potentially affected by these wind turbines and conditions/provisions for their development. PDF, 117Kb.

Consultation response letter to Local Planning Authority

Contains detailed comments on parts of the Environmental Statement (ES) for Saundby Wind Farm which may help the Local Planning Authority as it considers ecological and landscape issues. PDF, 29Kb.

ANNEX: Consultation response letter to Local Planning Authority