Having visited Hermaness National Nature Reserve a couple of times this summer it was interesting to note Scottish Natural Heritage’s information notice as illustrated in the attached photograph.
They have rerouted visitors from the centre of the reserve to avoid disturbance to Schedule 1 nesting birds, in this instance mainly red throated divers.
You will see that they take pains to remind the general public that disturbance of Schedule 1 nesting birds is against the law and can incur a maximum fine of £5,000.
Absolutely the correct thing to do but it is in stark contrast to their positioning on the current site exploration being carried out by Scottish & Southern Energy in the central mainland.
I fail to see how they can not have a problem with some 30+ workers traversing the hills with diggers and drilling rigs, while a helicopter makes regular trips over the area ferrying men and delivering water scooped from the lochs to the drilling rigs for cooling.
Commencing this work in mid July is against the law, there is simply no way that disturbance will not have happened or be happening.
I would question what empirical data SNH used to establish the daily use of a helicopter as causing no problem to red-throated divers who would still have had unfledged chicks on the lochs.
If we look at SNH’s Guidance on The use of helicopters and aircraft in relation to disturbance risks to Schedule 1 & 1A raptors and wider Schedule 1 species June 2015, we will see no mention ofanything other than raptors.
Looking at these guidelines however I would suggest that SNH arecontravening their own policy by this blanket acceptance of SSE’s activities from mid July.
Delayingthis work until at least mid August would have been the most effective mitigation, can SSE andSNH explain why this was not possible?
SNH state that all diver sites were identified and 300 metre exclusion zones were to be adhered to but the question is, who makes sure this is happening and what about the whimbrel and merlin?
An ecological clerk of works employed by the developer is hardly impartial, and with one enforcement officer to deal with the whole of Shetland it certainly won’t be our planning department!
Also if SNH did identify all nesting divers will they be following that up to ascertain what breeding success has been achieved? This of course still leaves other species out of the equation!
While I recognise that SNH is ostensibly an advisory and not an active regulatory body, it is evident that they have become a rubber stamping organisation for the Scottish Government. As taxpayers we fund it but we do not get the prerequisite protection we deserve for our natural heritage.
Having said that however, I still have a degree of sympathy for officers at ground level whose hearts are undoubtedly in the right place but are hampered by the bureaucratic and politically controlled organisation they are employed by.
There is no effective regulation happening with these current exploratory works and this does not bode well for the future should this nonsensical project go ahead; which in my personal view is still very unlikely.
There is a political game being played out here and Shetland is the unfortunate playing field!