In response to Graham Neville I thank him for his letter however he may be disappointed to learn that I take no reassurance from it (SNH provides advice, it doesn’t monitor or police; SN, 21 August 2019).
I do of course realise that Scottish Natural Heritage’s role is advisory and not regulatory, I recognised that in my letter, it is their advice that I am criticising (SNH not adhering to its own policies; SN, 17 August 2019).
Mr Neville refers to A Review of Disturbances in Selected Bird Species (Ruddock & Whitfield – 2007) which is referenced in 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.
I would point out once again that SNH’s Guidance 2015 does not mention red throated divers it only refers to raptors, despite the title. The 2007 Review (Ruddock & Whitfield) does mention red throated divers but unfortunately does not deal with helicopter and aircraft at all but only terrestrial human disturbance.
Therefore contrary to Mr Neville’s statement there appears to be no ‘published evidence’ which deals with helicopter and aircraft disturbance to red throated divers.
Helicopters are extremely noisy machines and under these operating requirements they will be flying very low. I find it extremely worrying that SNH can extrapolate their advice in such a cavalier fashion.
In my opinion the advice is flawed, there is a dangerous precedent being set here. These operations should be monitored extensively and impartially with credible evidence of the outcome.
Failure to do that could mean there will be a blanket acceptance without credible evidence which may be referenced at any future date, in just the same manner as the current advice has been given with no empirical data. On that basis should SNH not expand their role and monitor any disturbance and breeding outcome to ensure their advice is fit for purpose?
Whimbrel and merlin and other moorland birds will not necessarily have fledged by mid July, indeed on the same week the drilling work commenced I had flightless curlew chicks cross the road in front of me while driving through Sandness.
Merlin lay their eggs in late May to early June, incubation takes 28-32 days. Chicks from a ground nest will sometimes leave the nest after hatching at 10-12 days and go into cover, in other words you have no idea where they are. They will fledge at 25-32 days from hatching but are dependent on the parent birds for a further month.
This time scale means that merlin chicks may be dependent on their parents until late August, this does not take into account any birds which may have laid a second clutch due to early egg loss.
Whimbrel chicks and other moorland birds such as curlew, golden plover, snipe and dunlin are nidifugous and leave the nest almost immediately, this means it is also unknown exactly where they might be.
A lone Ecological Clerk of Works cannot possibly keep on top of this over such an area and scale of work. I find it unbelievable that your advice allows such limited supervision.
I would also remind SNH that all birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, not just Schedule 1 species.
There are limited exceptions to this but I do not believe investigative drilling operations is one of them.
One cannot get away from the instruction given by SNH for Hermaness. They state that Schedule 1 breeding birds nest from April to October and it is against the law to disturb them.
The double standards shown here is unacceptable.
Finally on a slightly different note and seeing as I have your attention, I would like to ask a question regarding SNH’s opinion on deterrence methods employed by developers.
This was referred to in Viking Energy’s Addendum – Volume 4 – Appendices – Site Environmental Management Plan – Technical Schedule – No 8 – 3.3.3. Deterrence Methods 188.8.131.52.
I have attached a link to a letter I submitted to the media in November 2010, I would be very grateful if you could read it and let me know if these deterrence methods are still proposed and what SNH’s view is on them?
This is similar to recently publicised instances of developers, mainly in England, who net hedgerows and trees prior to the breeding season in order to displace breeding birds and therefore leave the habitat free of nesting birds, so they can commence work in spring or early summer at will.
This is a particularly disturbing loophole in legislation which needs to be closed.
I look forward to a further response; it would be appreciated if my concerns could be answered more directly.