The provisionally withdrawn proposed Helensburgh Wind Farm
The affected site for the proposed Helensburgh wind farm is a large area from the main Helensburgh / Loch Lomond road to the ridge top of Tom na h’Airidh hill to the west, where a wind measuring mast will be located.
The construction of turbines, substation and road would introduce disturbance to birds and raise structures in what is currently undisturbed moorland. The effect on birdlife would be marked. As explained below, that birdlife is extensive and includes some nationally threatened species.
The turbines will be 200 metres from the boundary of the National Park and birds which originate in Glen Fruin (part of the National Park) but range into the affected area would be at risk of collision with the masts and blades. However, the greatest concern is the harm to birds in the wind farm moorland itself.
It must be almost unique to have such a varied range of birds so close to a town, with some species being in the threatened category. We therefore suggest that the area might be given a protective designation. This is discussed more fully on page 3 below under “Other factors”.
It is noted that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), in its submission to Argyll and Bute Council regarding this wind farm application, states, “Much of the surrounding area is a Local Nature Conservation Site, due to its local wildlife importance. The extensive nature of this open hill ground close to Helensburgh provides a valuable habitat close to a major town which is of high amenity value.” (The RSPB has also questioned the bird data from the developers.)
The site has been observed generally for bird life for many years by Mr. John Robertson. He has now done so in a systematic way for a year. During that period he has made 10 observation visits throughout all seasons from May 2013 to June 2014. Each observation visit has been for between 2 and 7 hours and has been from several viewpoints covering both the site for the turbines and the lower areas where the developers propose to establish a substation and access road. That work has been reported to the RSPB.
Bird diversity on site
The area of the proposed wind farm attracts birds because it combines open moorland with water locations (reservoir and two disused reservoirs which still retain some shallow water, plus a skating pond and streams) and elements suited to more urban birds.
There are two aspects of exceptional ornithological value at the area which would be affected by the wind farm :
The extraordinary diversity of species close to a town
The inclusion of rare and threatened species within that diversity
The list of those observed in recorded observation sessions has included, among others, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Hen Harrier, Raven, Short-eared Owl, Curlew, Buzzard, Willow Warbler, Lapwing, Cuckoo, Snipe, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Swift, Reed Bunting, Goosander, Mallard Duck, Heron, Oyster Catcher, Sparrow Hawk, Kestrel, Chiffchaff, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, etc.
Birds of special conservation value
As M. Subramanian pointed out in a research report of June 2012, although more birds in general are killed by other sources (e.g. domestic cats), “The troubling issue with wind development is that we are seeing growing numbers of birds of conservation concern being killed by wind turbines”.
That destruction is not only caused by collision with turbines, but by disruption in construction and maintenance work in the surrounding land and approach routes.
Five “red status” species have been observed : Black Grouse, Hen Harrier, Lapwing, Skylark and Cuckoo. Others, such as Short-eared Owl are increasingly rare and of concern. Of these, some are probably nesting in the area. Anecdotally, the tenant farmer reports both Black Grouse and Hen Harriers in the area and local residents have reported Black Grouse, Cuckoo and other birds.
The ornithological case for refusing this wind farm application and ascribing the area as a Local Nature Conservation Site would seem to be strong.
Green Belt extension
In the current Local Plan, just part of the area is in the Green Belt. The new Local Development Plan has been approved by Argyll and Bute Council and is currently at its final stage, that is, assessment by Scottish Government reporters.
The Proposed Local Development Plan includes an extension of the Green Belt to the north of Helensburgh to embrace more of the wind farm site, though not all of it. This recognises the environmental importance of the area. The developers’ road and other constructions would contravene the potential Green Belt status and that will be a material consideration in this application. The turbines site itself would be just outside the new Green Belt.
Local Nature Conservation Site designation
In the Proposed Local Development Plan, currently afforested land directly to the west of the moorland would be designated as Local Nature Conservation Site. If the Council were to express the view that this designation might be extended eastwards to embrace the moorland, that would seem to us to be logical.
Countryside footpaths avoiding the moorland birds
A bonus for bird life is the countryside footpaths layout around the fringes of the proposed wind farm area. Helensburgh has an excellent network of such footpaths around the town. started by volunteers more than 15 years ago. Most have been designated by Argyll and Bute Council as "Core Paths". They mostly do not encroach on the bird-supporting moorland, but they circle around it. This leads walkers to avoid the moor itself and, so, not to disturb birds.
To the south of the moor is the Upland Way which follows the boundary of the town. To the south and the west is the Three Lochs Way, part of a 50 km. path from the south to the north of Loch Lomond via the Gareloch and Loch Long. To the east, but on the other side of the road, is the recently created cross-Scotland Dunbar to Helensburgh John Muir Way. None of these disturbs the moor because walkers are routed around it. That provides the perfect arrangement for a Local Nature Conservation Site close to a town.
Code to map Green = Three Lochs Way Blue = John Muir Way Red = turbines In the centre is the moorland across which the developers propose to cut a construction road, to run north of the second reservoir. (click image to see larger version)
Planning policies related to birds and wind farms
The Argyll and Bute Council’s Local Plan 2009, Policy LP REN 1 – Wind Farms and Wind Turbines (page 87) provides a list of issues that must be satisfactorily addressed when making wind farm decisions. The second of these reads : “Areas and interests of nature conservation significance including biodiversity, ecology and water environment.” That clearly includes birds and the quotation from the RSPB above about this site reinforces that.
The recently-released Scottish Planning Policy (2014) in more specific about birds (paragraph 169, page 40). Among its 19 planing considerations relevant to wind farm decisions is the category :
effects on the natural heritage, including birds
Both in ornithological and in planning terms, this is a special site not appropriate for a wind farm.