A NATURE charity has stepped up its opposition to a huge new wind farm earmarked near Strathy by highlighting the threat it claims the venture would have on one of the area’s rare but not popularly highlighted birds.
Objections from ornithologists to SSE’s 47 turbine proposal on a forested area 12 kilometres south of the village in the heart of the Flow Country have centred on species such as golden eagle, hen harrier, merlin and golden plover.
In its latest broadside against the developers, RSPB Scotland has focused on the damage the wind farm could do to the wood sandpiper.
And the conservation charity has accused SSE of failing to properly assess the importance the site has for the species, of which there are reckoned to be fewer than 30 breeding pairs in the UK.
Spokesman Kenny Graham said: "Strathy South is in a very special place. SSE found a huge variety of special birds including the wood sandpiper, which is one of Scotland’s rarest breeding birds.
"The birds were recorded alarm-calling in June which is a classic sign of breeding behaviour, as the adults try to defend their chicks."
Mr Graham takes SSE to task for how it has logged this finding.
"We find it quite extraordinary that SSE has dismissed this record in their own assessment as simply being of birds on passage."
Mr Graham added: "Strathy South is completely surrounded by the Caithness and Sutherland Peatland Special Protection Area.
"It has this status because it is nationally important for its wealth of rare breeding birds, which include black-throated diver, red-throated diver, golden eagle, hen harrier, merlin, greenshank, golden plover, dunlin and, of course, the wood sandpiper.
"We are urging the applicant to reconsider if this is really a suitable place to build a large-scale wind farm."
SSE originally applied to erect 77 turbines on the Strathy South site which has since been scaled down to 40.
The company’s 33 turbine site at Strathy North is under construction and is due to go live next year.
SSE’s Strathy South project manager Nicki Small said yesterday: "SSE Renewables has undertaken some of the most detailed bird survey work the UK has seen in recent years during the development of our Strathy South proposals, including detailed records on wood sandpiper behaviour.
"As the RSPB are fully aware, we have been working closely with Scottish Natural Heritage for many months to address the issues raised by the results of our wood sandpiper survey.
"SNH has indicated that their concerns would be fully addressed by the removal of an identified turbine from the existing 47 turbine layout as a precaution.
"We are therefore baffled as to why the RSPB has chosen to raise this concern through the media at this late stage".