THE Scottish Government is being urged to reject plans for a new offshore windfarm over concerns it would result in “significant losses” to nearby seabird populations.

The Berwick Bank offshore wind farm being proposed by SSE Renewables (SSE-R) would, if approved, become Scotland’s largest with more than 300 turbines covering an area four times the size of Edinburgh.

Located in the outer Firth of Forth, SSE-R say that once completed the project would be capable of generating enough energy to power six million homes.

However, leading conservative charities have highlighted that the proposed site for the project neighbours the St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve and Bass Rock, which both host internationally significant populations of seabirds. 

Indeed, St Abb's is often referred to by tour guides as Scotland's "seabird city". 

The charities have raised concerns about the location and an alleged lack of detail on how the turbines’ impact of seabirds will be mitigated.

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Independent research by the National Trust of Scotland – which cares for the St Abb’s Head reserve – found that a majority of the local population had objections to a wind farm that could cause significant damage to nature.

A total of 80% of respondents agreed that the Berwick Bank development should be re-sited to a different offshore location where its impacts would be lessened, even if it was more costly for the developer.

While 60% said they did not believe that significant damage to seabird colonies was a price worth paying to increase Scotland’s renewable energy capacity.

Dr Cal Major, an ambassador for the National Trust for Scotland, said seabird populations were already in a fragile state and didn’t need added pressure on their populations.

“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,” she said.

The National: Kittiwakes are one of the species charities say are under threat by the wind farm proposalKittiwakes are one of the species charities say are under threat by the wind farm proposal (Image: National Trust for Scotland)

“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.

“One element that especially concerns us is Berwick Bank’s likely impact on seabirds, with predicted mortality rates much higher than other offshore wind farms.

“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.

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“Re-siting Berwick Bank gives them at least some chance of recovery.”

A recent study led by the RSPB found that Scotland’s seabird populations were suffering “catastrophic” declines due to avian flu.

Bass Rock is home to world’s largest colony of northern gannets. However, the study found that the gannet population in Scotland had reduced by 22% since the first wave of avian flu outbreaks in 2021.

Director of RSPB Scotland, Anne McCall, said the decision of the Scottish Government could have “profound” impacts on nature.

“We cannot address the climate crisis without addressing the nature crisis at the same time – the two are inextricably linked,” she said.

“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 National: Gannets are already suffering declines in Scotland due to the impact of avian fluGannets are already suffering declines in Scotland due to the impact of avian flu (Image: National Trust for Scotland)

“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.”

Meanwhile, other charities have raised concerns about whether SSE-R has acted responsibly in proposing the site for development.

Susan Davies, the CEO of the Scottish Seabird Centre, which looks across the Firth of Forth at Bass Rock, 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.

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“This does not seem to be the actions of a responsible developer.”

While the Scottish Wildlife Trust added that it was “disappointing” that SSE-R hadn’t addressed the concerns of conservation charities raised to them as far back as March 2023.

A spokesperson for SSE Renewables said: “Nationally significant projects like Berwick Bank will be vital in delivering Scotland's offshore wind targets and ensuring the country fulfils its potential as a global leader in tackling both the climate and nature crises.

"As part of our consent application for Berwick Bank, we have put forward a comprehensive package of mitigation and compensatory measures to support this and look forward to working with environmental organisations and others as this important project delivers for Scotland."