DEVELOPERS behind plans for a “world-leading” offshore wind farm have reduced the size of the site in a bid to lessen the impact on seabirds.
SSE Renewables’ proposals for Berwick Bank are expected to be sent to the Scottish Government early next year.
Various technical studies for the site, which is about 40 kilometres off the East Lothian coast, are being undertaken.
Earlier this year, a 24-month aerial survey programme was completed by the developer and HiDef Aerial Surveying.
The survey, consisting of 300 hours of flight time, across 5,000 square kilometres – seven times the size of East Lothian – is believed to be the largest of its kind ever undertaken.
Now, SSE Renewables has announced it will reduce the overall size of the site by about 10 per cent to mitigate the potential impact on local seabird populations. It is also proposed to raise the minimum height of the turbine blades from 22m to 37m above sea level to allow for bird passage through the site.
Alex Meredith, Berwick Bank project director, said: “Accelerating our efforts to decarbonise the electricity system must be done in harmony with our natural environment.
“For that reason, we have taken the decision to reduce the area we will develop by around 10 per cent, to provide large gaps between existing wind farms and the Berwick Bank Wind Farm site, to prevent a barrier being created between seabird feeding grounds and breeding habitats.
“Our surveys have shown that increasing the air gap between the sea and the lowest blade height to 37m should have a significant positive impact on potential collisions.
“With these measures, we want to minimise any potential impact that Berwick Bank Wind Farm has on the local seabird populations, particularly kittiwake and guillemot, whilst also recognising that climate change is a key threat to these species.”
It was previously announced that Berwick Bank had secured a grid connection at Branxton, near Torness, and a second grid connection location is expected to be confirmed this year.
If approved, Berwick Bank will be capable of generating enough renewable energy to power more than five million homes, equivalent to all of Scotland’s households twice over, and avoiding eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year – similar to removing all of Scotland’s annual car emissions.
Martin Scott, HiDef Aerial Surveying commercial director, described reducing the impact to birds as “a major priority” throughout the project. He said: “By creating a larger airgap, this increases the likelihood of birds being able to pass safely under the turbines and reduces the potential for collision risk with the moving blades.”
Catherine Kelham, senior marine conservation planner at RSPB Scotland, was hoping to continue working with the developer on the proposals.
She said: “SSE Renewables’ ambitious proposals for Berwick Bank could be a major step forward for reaching Scotland’s net-zero targets.
“There are, however, already four consented offshore wind projects in the same Forth and Tay area. These pose substantial risks to Scotland’s world-renowned seabird populations, including the puffins, gannets and guillemots that breed here.
“As we face the twin nature and climate crisis, we need to ensure that actions taken to tackle climate emissions don’t worsen the state of our fragile natural world.
“This is why we welcome SSE Renewables’ commitment to progress ‘in harmony with the natural environment…’ and the project design changes they are already making to minimise the risks to seabirds in this region.
“Aiming to reduce collision risks through raising the turbine blades is a welcome, simple and effective measure that must be supported.
“We must not lose sight of the locked-in impacts of consented projects in this area and the additional threats posed by this new and very large offshore wind farm. Seabirds are the fastest declining group of birds globally and collision with turbines is just one of several risks they face from offshore wind.”
On the visual impact of the wind farm for East Lothian residents, a spokesperson for Berwick Bank Wind Farm added: “We anticipate the visual impact from the coast to be minimal: the project is approximately 40km away from the East Lothian coast and is also the furthest away development in the area.”  https://www.eastlothiancourier.com/news/19647618.offshore-windfarm-plans-changed-lessen-impact-seabirds/

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