UHI Shetland - Open the door to your future
Sunday 21 July 2024
 12.2°C   WSW Moderate Breeze
Ocean Kinetics - The Engineering Experts

Environment / RSPB adds to concern over spaceport’s potential impact on birds

Lamba Ness in Unst where Shetland Space Centre proposes to build a commercial satellite launch base. Photo: Shetland Space Centre

THE RSPB is the latest organisation to express worry over the possible impact satellite launches in Unst could have on birdlife and protected species on the island.

RSPB Scotland has initially objected to plans for Shetland Space Centre’s launch facility at Lamba Ness because of “potential impacts of rocket launch noise on breeding, protected birds”.

However, it said it objected until further information is provided showing a detailed appraisal of potential impacts on the Hermaness, Saxa Vord and Valla Field Special Protection Area (SPA), which is classified for a range of breeding seabirds and breeding red-throated driver.

It comes after public body NatureScot also issued similar concerns.

Bird protection charity RSPB Scotland said it recognised the potential for the “innovative” space centre to spark economic development and job creation in Unst.

“However, the importance of Unst for birds and other wildlife is also well recognised by local residents and visitors, and wildlife tourism is a significant contributor to the local economy,” it added.

The Hermaness National Nature Reserve for instance, at the northern tip of Unst, plays host to thousands of seabirds, including fulmars, gulls, shags, gannets, puffins and kittiwakes.

The charity claims there is insufficient information provided in the planning application’s environmental impact assessment to “enable a full and robust assessment to be carried out” to conclude with certainty that there will be no adverse impact on the special protection area.

It said that additional information should be requested from the applicant.

The RSPB’s response said that the SPA and Saxa Vord site of special scientific interest (SSSI) are around 3.79km from one of the proposed launch pads.

It claimed the applicant “appears to rely solely” on NatureScot’s response to a planning application for a spaceport in Sutherland in the Highlands with respect to noise.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


The RSPB notes that the impact of loud noise on densely packed colonies of cliff nesting birds, such as those found in Unst, could be “very different” compared to the effect on ground nesting birds in Sutherland.

A breeding birds protection plan is proposed by the applicant, but the RSPB recommended that a breeding bird monitoring programme is included.

The charity also touched on climate change impacts, calling for further measures to offset carbon emissions, “such as the identification of additional areas for [peatland] restoration”.

“Alternatively, other measures to offset the carbon impacts should be presented,” it added.

“Given the climate emergency we are facing, it is crucial that the construction and operation of the proposed spaceport can be justified in the context of targets to achieve net zero emissions.”

Referring to the plans for the spaceport in Sutherland as well as Unst, the RSPB also said that it is “concerned a national strategic approach has not been taken in considering and identifying the best location for such proposals”.

NatureScot’s submission, meanwhile, called for the suspension of rocket launches between mid-May and the end of June due the possible impact on breeding birds.

A Shetland Space Centre spokesperson previously said that “as with any large planning application, we expect a wide range of comments from interested parties”.

“Once we have received them all, we will assess them in the round and respond in detail.”

Shetland Space Centre said that the launch facility will ultimately create around 140 jobs in Unst and “inject at least £4.9 million per annum into the island’s economy”.

It will provide a further 70 jobs throughout Shetland, it said, adding a further £2.9 million in gross value per annum to the economy.

The space centre team said the plans are supported by a “thorough and extremely comprehensive” environmental impact assessment report.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.