Helen Moncrieff, Shetland Islands Manager, has written this blog in response to the announcement that the Energy Isles windfarm in Yell has been granted consent by Scottish Ministers.

Peatlands are important for so many reasons – from their summer soundscape of breeding birds such as Skylark, Dunlin, Golden Plover and Red-throated Diver, known as Laeverick, Plivver’s Page and Raingoose here, to their role in tackling climate change through gathering and storing carbon. As a Shetlander, I have a long and deep connection with the nature we share these Islands with, and a great love of the open spaces of the landscape. In recent years, I have struggled with the industrialisation of hill ground under windfarms, and the impacts it has had on our communities who are both for and against the developments for many reasons.

Dunlin and Golden Plover, Lumbister RSPB nature reserve, Yell

In RSPB Scotland, we recognise the need to deliver renewable energy if we are to meet our climate change targets. However, development needs to be carefully sited to avoid the most damaging impacts on nature. In Shetland, we formally objected to Viking Energy, Mossy Hill and Beawfield developments, but each were granted consent. After carefully considering the Energy Isles proposal we withdrew our objection in relation to impacts on birds (owing to new information provided by the Applicant about collision risk,  and also about Red-throated Diver in relation to the Bluemull and Colgrave Sounds Special Protection Area) but we maintained our objection to the development due to significant adverse impacts on nationally important peatlands.

The peatland which will be lost or damaged by the development is of a really good quality - something that is rare in Scotland because 75% of our peatlands are damaged or degraded - and should be treasured. RSPB Scotland has a great deal of experience of peatland management and restoration in Shetland and elsewhere in the UK. Although some peatland restoration is proposed, we do not think that this would compensate for the loss of ‘active’ blanket bog that is in good condition, and which captures and stores carbon in addition to being a nationally important habitat in its own right.

Restored peatland ‘on the road to recovery’. Lumbister RSPB nature reserve, Yell, Shetland. Feb 2023.

Now that the decision has been made to grant consent, we will take some time to understand the conditions set down by government. This is the first windfarm consented in Shetland after the adoption of the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), a national planning policy document which must be considered when determining such developments. This includes policies which aim to protect and restore peatlands and  enhance biodiversity. We will continue to try to get the best outcome for nature and hope that Shetland Islands Council and Scottish Government will ensure that the peatland restoration proposals are fully implemented and if not found to be effective, further compensation is provided.

I am aware some folk believe we do not do enough to prevent windfarm developments, but I am proud of the work that my colleagues past and present did and continue to do. Whilst our objections have not prevented any of the large developments in Shetland, we have been active in trying to secure a better future for Shetland’s important peatland biodiversity. For example, we have been fundamental in bringing a range of organisations together with a keen interest in peatlands to form a Shetland peatland partnership and are currently finalising a comprehensive strategy to benefit peatlands, biodiversity and people. RSPB Scotland also manages peatland nature reserves for the benefit of breeding birds and other biodiversity, have ambitious plans for restoration, and we work closely with crofters and farmers across Shetland to help access agri-environment schemes with moorland options. We will continue to do our best during these days of multiple pressures on nature and climate.