In response to Billy Fox’s letter (SNH not adhering to its own policies; SN, 17 August 2019), we’d like to clarify a few points about our actions and role.
Our role in the planning system is to provide advice to developers and to decision-makers. We don’t decide whether or not works take place nor monitor or police works. We have provided advice to protect wild birds around the Viking Energy wind farm work site.
In this case, the developers have followed our guidance to help them avoid committing an offence by disturbing protected birds. The species in question are those listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which makes it an offence deliberately or recklessly to disturb them while they are on or near their nests or attending dependent young.
Our guidance on disturbance risks from the use of helicopters and aircraft mainly concerns raptors, but refers to another publication, A Review of Disturbance Distances in Selected Bird Species (Ruddock & Whitfield – 2007), for other species.
In line with this, the developers have established a 300-metre radius exclusion zone around each of the currently occupied red-throated diver and whooper swan nest sites. Two other Schedule 1 species – whimbrel and merlin – also nest in the area of the wind farm, but the young of these have fledged by mid-July so disturbance would no longer constitute an offence.
We believe, on the basis of published evidence, that the exclusion zones will be large enough to avoid disturbance.
Implementing the protection plan will be overseen by the Ecological Clerk of Works (ECoW) who is appointed by the developer, with the approval of the planning authority, but is an independent professional, bound by a professional code of conduct.
The ECoW is responsible for ensuring that the works comply with the law and has the power to halt work and alter working practices if necessary. This includes changing flight protocols should nesting birds prove more sensitive than anticipated.
Northern Isles and North Highland Area Manager
Scottish Natural Heritage