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Whimbrel hold up Viking decision

The 300 pairs of whimbrel nesting in Shetland form 95 per cent of the UK polulation - Photo: Viking Energy

THE FATE of one species of rare bird may be all that is holding up a government decision on the proposed £680 million Viking Energy wind farm in Shetland.

Scottish Natural Heritage remain the only statutory consultee that still objects to the huge 127 turbine wind farm being planned on peatland in the islands’ central and north mainland.

The Scottish government is waiting for SNH and Viking Energy to resolve their differences over the fate of the island’s important colony of whimbrel.

Campaigners against the wind farm are hoping the government calls for a public inquiry due to the level of local concern, with 2,700 people lodging objections to the wind farm compared to 1,100 in favour.

However when Shetland Islands Council backed the development against the advice of its planning department last December, councillors removed the only guarantee that a full public inquiry would be held.

While there remain other outstanding objections to the wind farm, notably from the bird charity RSPB, the only one that appears to be enough to delay the project is that from SNH.

The other main statutory consultee is the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which has withdrawn its objection as long as certain conditions are adhered to.

SNH has called for Viking to remove 17 turbines from their plans to reduce the visual impact along the Lang Kames, but landscape issues are not governed by legislation in the way that rare birds are.

Whimbrel are a red-listed species, whose 300 pairs in Shetland form 95 per cent of the UK population.

Viking Energy point out that this is a tiny fraction of their numbers in northern Europe that hover between 300,000 and 400,000, though SNH point out that this makes them no less important and that the population is in decline.

Viking Energy project co-ordinator Allan Wishart said the talks about the impact on birds remain the only outstanding issue for the wind farm developers.

Mr Wishart was appointed in July 2009 on a 12 month contract to help the public and organisations like SNH understand what Viking were planning, and almost two years later he believes he will be able to stand down in the next few weeks.

“Two years ago we anticipated that it would be maybe a year to get through the whole procedure, but the way the project was met with objections and comments meant that we had to review the whole of the application and that has taken a lot of extra time,” he said.

“The only statutory authority objecting at the moment is SNH, mainly on the question of whimbrel. We estimate fatalities of 2.1 whimbrel per annum, while 108 whimbrel are killed by predators and natural events every year.”

This month Viking intend to supply new information collected last year which they hope will persuade SNH that their figures are both accurate and acceptable. If not, the government will have to determine the application with all the current objections still outstanding.

A government spokesman said that new energy minister Fergus Ewing was still considering the Viking Energy application.

SNH renewable energy casework adviser Nina Turner said they were working with Viking Energy to try and reduce the wind farm’s impact so the government could determine the application without an objection from them.

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