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Thurso wind farm developer claims 'biodiversity gain' from Cairnmore Hill proposal

By John Davidson

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Developers claim the Cairnmore Hill wind farm will improve biodiversity. Picture: RES
Developers claim the Cairnmore Hill wind farm will improve biodiversity. Picture: RES

The developer of a proposed five-turbine wind farm close to Thurso claims the scheme will improve biodiversity by improving habitats in the area.

RES, which is behind plans to develop Cairnmore Hill wind farm, has submitted a new Biodiversity Enhancement Management Plan (BEMP) to accompany its planning application.

The plan includes measures to enhance 56 hectares of wet heath habitat, plant 5.5 hectares of broadleaved woodland, create 4.5 hectares of species-rich scrub as well as the planting of more than 2300m of species-rich hedgerows.

The proposed turbines will have a maximum tip height of up to 138.5 metres and the development is located in an area identified by Highland Council as having "potential for wind farm development" which is currently used for grazing sheep.

A previous application for eight turbines at the same site was turned down by the council, while opponents of the project have claimed it would be "a blot on the landscape" that would be seen from many parts of Caithness and Orkney.

However, a local resident who is the closest neighbour to the site previously said he is fully behind the development and maintains it will provide long-term benefit to the area.

RES insist the measures at Cairnmore Hill would improve local flora and fauna during the site’s operational life with the bespoke BEMP calculating a 16 per cent Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), as a direct result of the wind farm being built.

Euan Hogg, development project manager for RES, said: “There’s currently a range of pressures being exerted on Scotland’s natural environment, including the direct impacts of human induced climate change, and it’s so important that we take measures to enhance our precious biodiversity, wherever we can.

"Cairnmore Hill offers a fantastic opportunity to do just that with a range of habitat improvements proposed to support a richer and more diverse mix of species on-site.

“The enhancement and restoration proposed could help improve the breeding, wintering and foraging habitats for a whole range of species, including waders and increase the floral species diversity. The turbines producing clean electricity on-site would also work hand-in-hand with the carbon-absorbing wet heath, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

A Biodiversity Management Group (BMG) would be established to oversee and monitor the implementation of the agreed BEMP and is likely to include representatives from Highland Council and NatureScot, the company stated.

RES says that, if consented, the wind farm would help offset the equivalent of more than 23,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year and pay off its construction emissions in one-and-a-half years. It is expected to be capable of generating enough electricity to meet the annual demand of 28,000 homes and deliver around £1.4 million of inward investment, including creating local jobs and supply chain opportunities.

The company also proposes to create a tailored community benefit package and it has announced a collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands to support its Student Development Fund, which will empower at least 60 students to further their personal development.

The proposed Cairnmore Hill wind farm site lies approximately 4.5km west of Thurso. RES submitted a planning application for the project to Highland Council in August 2022.

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