Conservation officer Kenny Graham reflects on a victory in the battle against Strathy South and highlights the next steps in the campaign.
Photo Credit: Norrie Russell
Beautiful, isn’t it? The Flows - arguably the biggest single expanse of blanket bog in Europe - are un-matched by anything in the UK. They are on the tentative list for inscription as a World Heritage Site; the bogs, dubh lochans and transitional mires support sphagnums and sundews, otters and water voles; and the suite of rare birds is an ornithologists dream.
Many will remember the raft of inappropriate non-native forestry that was planted in the 70s and 80s, the public outcry that saw it stopped and the subsequent forest-to-bog restoration work that has since been undertaken. We’ve made great progress: pulling millions of pounds worth of funding in with our partner organisations, creating sustainable jobs, and learning more about the bog’s nationally important carbon storage capacity (an estimated 400 million tonnes). Our reserve at Forsinard is not only the biggest in the UK, its six full time staff and six research and/or volunteering posts represent sustainable rural employment in one of the region’s most fragile areas.
So why would anyone put a windfarm in the middle of it? We’ve been advising developer Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) of our concerns with the Strathy South site since 2004. The windfarm is predicted to kill or displace red-throated divers, black-throated divers, hen harriers, greenshanks and one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds, the wood sandpiper. Birds such as golden plover, dunlin and golden eagle are also present and we want to improve the Flows by continuing to restore habitat lost to them as a result of forestry.
Photo Credit: Laurie Campbell (rspb-images.com)
Thankfully, Highland Council last week recommended refusing SSE’s planning application for Strathy South. While the Scottish Ministers will be the final arbiters, the vote by councillors of 12:3 to refuse the application - contrary to their own planner’s recommendation - is a landslide victory and a real wake up call to SSE. We need sustainable renewable energy, but it must come from developments of the right scale in the right location. SSE’s Strathy South is simply bonkers.
Photo credit: Norrie Russell
So what now? The Scottish Government is required to hold a Public Local Inquiry into Strathy South. This means that the pertinent areas of the application will be discussed in detail in the public domain. The PLI will be overseen by a Reporter appointed by the Scottish Government, who will collate the results and produce a recommendation for ministers, who will then determine whether to approve the application. A PLI is a very involved and costly process and we will be pushing SSE very hard to drop the application - and save the public purse massive unnecessary expense.
But that is not the whole story. There is a second windfarm proposal adjacent to Strathy South called Strathy Wood, which is also bonkers. E.On are seeking consent to put turbines on the actual SPA/SAC and on non-designated partially restored peatland areas. Their proposal will see three pairs of hen harriers, a pair of red-throated divers and upland waders compromised if consent is granted. The application still has to come before Highland Council for their recommendation to the Scottish Government. Our postcard campaign has been encouraging folk to vote against both Strathy Wood and Strathy South and we need to keep the pressure on to get as many objections as possible in to Highland Council and the Scottish Government over the coming months. So please add your weight and object, or at the very least join our epetition. For more information please see rspb.org.uk/strathywood or rspb.org.uk/strathysouth.