Conservation charities call on Scottish Ministers to reject proposed Berwick Bank wind farm

Leading conservation charities are calling on Scottish Ministers to reject a renewables development that could wreak unacceptable levels of ecological damage – including to vulnerable seabird populations – off Scotland’s East Coast.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust, along with the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and Scottish Seabird Centre have set out concerns about the proposed new Berwick Bank Offshore Wind Farm in a letter to Energy, Just Transition and Fair Work Minister, Gillian Martin MSP, as Scottish Ministers prepare to make a final decision on SSE-Renewables’ application for Berwick Bank. Ministers will have the final say on whether the application is approved once they have received the Scottish Government Marine Directorate’s recommendation on the proposal, expected shortly.

© Ciaran Hatsell, National Trust for Scotland, St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve

The proposed wind farm, off the St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve (NNR) and Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, would be Scotland’s largest, with over 300 turbines covering an area over four times the size of Edinburgh.

While supportive in principle of the expansion of offshore wind generation to combat climate change, the four conservation charities have highlighted a number of worrying concerns about SSE-R’s plans to site the wind farm so close to internationally significant seabird colonies and Special Protection Areas. These include the developer’s approach to identifying Berwick Bank’s impact on seabird numbers, the lack of adequate steps to mitigate its impact and the effectiveness of its proposed compensation measures.

New independent research for the National Trust of Scotland, which cares for St Abb’s Head and has a strategic objective to speak up for Scotland’s heritage, found that a significant majority of the public living in the local area have objections to a wind farm that can cause this level of harm to nature:

  • 80% of respondents agreed that the proposed development should be re-sited offshore to a location where its impacts would be lessened, even if it is more costly for the developer.
  • 84% agreed that protecting the natural environment is vital to the local and national economy.
  • 66% did not believe that significant damage to seabird colonies was a price worth paying to increase Scotland’s renewable energy capacity. Indeed, 82% of people agreed that avoiding impacts on Special Protection Areas was important.

© National Trust for Scotland, Kittiwake at St Abbs Head

Dr Cal Major, ocean and nature advocate, and ambassador for the National Trust for Scotland, commented: “I strongly back this call for Scottish Ministers to reject the current Berwick Bank proposal and for SSE-R to re-site the wind farm to a less ecologically damaging location.

“Our conservation charity supports the expansion of offshore wind farms, which are a vital component of Scotland’s journey to net zero. However, they must be sited in the right places for nature. This location – off St Abb’s Head with its precious seabird colonies – is clearly not the right site. Nature and biodiversity are vital assets in tackling climate change, and we must make sure we don’t put them at irreversible or unnecessary risk in transitioning to net zero – especially seabirds which are such a vital part of the marine ecosystem.

“One element that especially concerns us is Berwick Bank’s likely impact on seabirds, with predicted mortality rates much higher than other offshore windfarms. For example, seven times as many Kittiwakes will be removed from the population, per GW of energy produced, than at Hornsea Three where predicted impacts are already considered to be high. It’s surely unacceptable to create this additional threat to colonies when seabirds such as Puffins, Kittiwakes, Gannets and Razorbills are already under huge pressure from climate change, dwindling food supplies and avian flu. Re-siting Berwick Bank gives them at least some chance of recovery.”

© Susan Davies, guillemot on Isle of May

Jo Pike, CE of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, added: “It is disappointing to see that SSE-Renewables did not take the opportunity to address the concerns that several nature charities have been highlighting to them since March 2023. We are not opposed to the expansion of renewable energy as long as it’s in the appropriate location for people and nature. However, the highly concerning negative trends observed in most seabird populations need to be taken seriously and we need to see proposals put forward that adequately tackle both the climate and nature crisis.”

Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “We cannot address the climate crisis without addressing the nature crisis at the same time – the two are inextricably linked. The decision that Scottish Ministers are about to make will have potentially profound implications for our seabirds, which the latest Seabird Census identifies are under even greater threat than previously thought. The Scottish Government needs to carefully consider whether there are better alternatives to this development, and what the implications of permitting it might be for the many other offshore wind developments that will follow in its footsteps. Scottish Ministers must make the right decisions, with nature foremost in their thinking, and the offshore wind industry must effectively address their impact on nature, as we all seek solutions to the climate crisis.”

Susan Davies, CEO of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: “We are facing a nature crisis and must ensure that green energy is secured in ways which do not contribute to further loss. SSE-R have forged ahead with proposals that are not in an appropriate location or scale, ignoring their own modelling which predicts significant losses to seabirds. This does not seem to be the actions of a responsible developer.”

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Leading conservation charities are calling on Scottish Ministers to reject a renewables development that could wreak unacceptable levels of ecological damage – including to vulnerable seabird populations – off Scotland’s …

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