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Are Beavers Eco-Warriors or Eco-Vandals?

March of the Wind Turbines

            People in communities all over Scotland feel increasingly at the mercy of big firms replacing trees with concrete and building ever-bigger and more intrusive wind turbines, writes Jonathan Brocklebank (‘Why we are all powerless to stop the wind farm invasion’, 19/11/22). They speak of the ring of steel enclosing their communities.  The Scottish government often overturns local planning objects like at Garbet wind farm near Dufftown and the Clash Gour scheme near Forres, as well as a 28-turbine extension to Rothes windfarm.  It was claimed by locals that this would effectively industrialise 80-85% of the northern part of Moray.  The noise levels are affecting not only locals but those with properties they let out to tourists.

            Dumfries and Galloway council is being swamped by applications for new wind turbines, but another consideration is the heavy earth-moving plant going up and down unsuitable roads, resulting in collapsed verges and toppling cranes, which has led in some cases to local businesses having to suspend sales due to damaged roads.  The turbines are often designed for offshore use. 

            It is planned to make the Hill of Fare near Banchory the location of 17 giant turbines, each taller than Canary Wharf.  When challenged, the Scottish government reiterates that Scotland needs to take bold action in the climate emergency, claiming that this has massive popular support.  Yet again the Scottish government is the culprit rather than the UK.

Amazon and Tesco add £12 million to customers’ energy bills.

            Halsary wind farm turbines in the far north of Scotland only work 50% of the time.   This is Tesco’s private wind farm and when the turbines are still, the cost of their lost income is passed on to consumers. Over £650,000 was paid to Tesco since March this year, writes Jonathan Brocklebank (Daily Mail, November 5, 2022).   The biggest recipient of constraint payments is the Moray East offshore wind farm, getting over £50 million.  The Beinn an Tuirc 3 is Amazon’s own wind turbine farm in the Kintyre peninsula. Amazon buys all the energy produced but Halsary and Beinn an Tuirc received over £59 million in constraint payments in 2022. The turbines are operated by Scottish Power Renewables and supply to the National Grid, not direct to Tesco or Amazon.

            This happens because the energy produced cannot be supplied direct to where it is needed, due to constraints on the National Grid, so has to be turned off for fear of overloading the grid.  This has cost customers in the UK £1.15 billion since 2010 from Scottish windfarms alone.  Over three days in October approximately £10.5 million of payouts were paid to 62 Scottish wind farms for not producing electricity.  Halsary and Beinn an Tuirc 3 are supposed to be strictly commercial enterprises, but have in fact received huge payments by virtue of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with customers subsidising giants like Tesco and Amazon.  Tesco uses the payments to buy more energy.  So far this year Scottish sites have ‘earned’ over £163 million.

Are Beavers Eco-Warriors or Eco-Vandals?

            Far from being ecosystem engineers, reducing flood risks, re-routing rivers and removing trees, they are regarded in some areas as eco-vandals gnawing at trees to the point they have to be felled, with dams blocking waterways which fill with debris, and flooding crop fields.  The Scottish government made beavers a protected species in 2019 and numbers are expanding rapidly in Angus, Perthshire and Stirlingshire.  Farmers are opposed to the expansion of beaver colonies, and must devote time and money every year to removing dams and restoring riverbanks.  NatureScot itself is involved in trapping and relocating beavers to England or its project in Knapdale, but the problem persists.

            Conversely, their dams may be of help in flood-hit areas by stemming floodwaters and limiting the damage caused.  

SEPA and Raw Sewage

            The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has been accused this month of allowing the illegal operation of a Scottish Water site which has been polluting Fisherrow Sands, Musselburgh for a decade, writes the Ferret ‘Green watchdog is accused of allowing ‘illegal operation’…., Sunday National, 2/10/22).

            The Eastfield pumping station contributed to unsafe levels of E.coli and other bacteria in leaking wastewater from Edinburgh and the Lothians.  The Sands lost their bathing status in 2019.  Critics accuse SEPA of failing to use enforcement procedures like fines or reporting the culprits to the Procurator Fiscal.  The Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) went so far as to accuse Scottish Water of a ‘criminal offence’ and of breaching its water licence.  Eastfield failed to process rainwater and sewage at the levels legally required of it, with sewage and paper overflow going into Brunstane Burn.

            Problems were repeatedly found at this site from 2017 onwards, but no ‘improvement plan’ was in place at October 202, and SEPA still advises people against bathing at the beach.  To some extent this was legal.  Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) allow overflows during heavy rainfall to stop sewage backing up in homes.

            In January 2021 Eastfield’s pumps failed ‘frequently’ and gates to control water flow were ‘not operating correctly’, and Fisherrow Harbour and Seafront Association said the surrounding waters suffered from manmade pollution and contaminants for many years.  It intends to keep pressing those in charge to correct the situation.

            SEPA and Scottish Water say issues at Eastfield have now been resolved but will continue to be monitored.  Pumps have been refurbished or replaced and maintenance carried out.  Twenty-five tonnes of debris including wipes, sanitary products and grease were removed from the pumping station in April 2022.  It is believed that nationally only 10% of Scotland’s sewage overflows are monitored, partly because much of the coastline is uninhabited. 

Avian Flu

            devastated St Abb’s Head’s colonies of guillemots, kittiwakes and gannets last year with geese, sea birds and raptors around Scotland also decimated, with workers in protective clothing having to just pile thousands of dead birds into bin bags for incineration.  About 16,000 geese perished in the Solway Firth and 40,000 barnacle geese at Caerlaverock.  Since then, the H5N1 virus has been found in Canadian seals, a bottlenose dolphin in the US and a porpoise in Sweden, plus wild foxes in north America and the Netherlands.

            The avian flu virus may survive 200 days or more in freshwater, so may be waiting to claim more victims this year.

Birds of Prey

            appear to be under threat, with dozens illegally shot, poisoned or trapped in the UK last year.  Ninety-one birds of prey were affected with 71% of all confirmed raptor persecutions related to land managed for gamebird shooting.   But the figures may be under-reported.  Scotland now has licensing for driven grouse shoots and it is hoped that England will adopt a similar system.

Land Reform

            Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) which represents landholders in Scotland objects to the Scottish government’s plans for a new land reform bill which would set a public interest test on sales of existing large parcels of land or where such large estates would be created by the sale.  A recently closed government consultation defines large-scale as anything over 3000 hectares.

            If the sale fails a public interest test, large holdings could be broken up into lots, but a single buyer would be unable to buy the whole estate, and with the local community being offered some of the land.  The SLE says large estates promote economic activity in fragile areas in a way that smaller lots could not and warned of possible court cases.  It says big landholding is more conducive to climate projects like peatland restoration than trying to coordinate action between several landowners.

Aberdeenshire ‘HydroGlen’

            Glensaugh in Aberdeenshire is on course to become Scotland’s first ‘green glen’ as a self-contained ‘hydro hamlet’ run entirely on self-generated renewable power, as well as feeding in extra power to the National Grid. It is hoped that this scheme can be taken up by other small groups of farm operations.

            The farm will be retrofitted to produce hydrogen using local water in an electrolyser, then stored short term in batteries.

            The Just Transition Fund is funding this and other projects through the James Hutton Institute, which has received £13 million from the Scottish government for two north east projects. The Institute is working on a number of agricultural and environmental projects including reducing plastic use in silage and haylage and nutrient recovery from wastewater.  The £500 million Just Transition fund is intended for projects which will take the north-east to net zero in the transition from fossil fuels.

Short-term licensing rules

            introduced by the Scottish government have been slammed by the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers and others, saying that being run by each council according to their own rules will cause confusion and may force providers out of the sector.

            Edinburgh City Council is imposing £360 fees for letting a single room for one person for a three-year lease, with fees for a secondary let property sleeping 6 to be almost £2500 a year.  A secondary let is letting a property where a person does not usually live, like second homes.  Fees for the Western Isles will be between £200 for an ordinary let and £400 for a secondary one.  Fines up to £50,000 will be imposed on those operating without a licence

            Bed and Breakfast and all short-term lets will need a permit, with higher charges for secondary lets than for properties where the owner usually lives.

Just Transition Fund

            Some of its funding decisions are raising eyebrows. One award of £5 million went to Opportunity North East (ONE) chaired by oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood, and £2 million to the Net Zero Technology Centre backed by oil firms including Shell and BP.  Friends of the Earth said a third project which received £14 million, the Energy Transition Zone (ETZ) in Torry, Aberdeen, is opposed by local residents and St Fittick’s Community Park will be destroyed to accommodate it.  The ETZ itself is backed by ONE.

            The fund is meant to help north east and Moray community projects which contribute to the region’s transition to net zero.

Flamingo Land

            The National Trust for Scotland has urged the developers of Flaming Land to give up its proposed development, voicing concerns for the potential destruction of ancient woodland and the impact on the local area of a new large-scale development. The developers want further talks with the NTS to ‘clarify and discuss’ the developers’ position.

The Langholm Initiative

            has completed the £2.2 million buyout of land in Dumfries and Galloway to double the size of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve.   The additional land which has been bought comprises significant peatlands, the headwaters of the River Tarras and three properties including a working upland sheep farm.


            are accused of damaging Ben Lomond’s mountain paths by not wearing proper hiking boots, instead opting for trainers or soft shoes, and veering off the path to walk over soft moss and lichens, grass and heather, which become degraded, damaging the topsoil.  When the edges of the path get damaged, the stones have to be replaced individually by bringing them by hand from elsewhere and placing them.  Heavy equipment cannot be used.

            Hikers are also believed to be responsible for a big wildfire on Ben Lomond this year, which destroyed a fledgling rewilding project.

            Other sites have also been damaged, including Glen Coe, Kintail, Torridon and Ben Lawers and the NTS campaign ‘Love this place, leave no trace’ last summer was intended to make walkers more aware of the damage they can do.

Wind Power

            may have an unfortunate effect on biodiversity through the noise, drilling and construction.  Seabirds like gannets and kittiwakes are already in decline  the Berwick Bank project had to reduce its planned area to reduce its impact on seabirds. Offshore windfarms create two risks to seabirds, collisions with turbine blades, and displacement from foraging areas. 

            The RSPB is urging the full closure of sand eel fisheries in the UK to help kittiwakes which have declined by 70% since 1986.

The Berwick Bank

            project is overcoming major geological challenges and the need to construct at depths lower than the Seagreen windfarm in Angus which is currently the deepest below sea level at 59 metres.  Both are owned by SSE.  The seabed lease was awarded to SSE in 2010 in the third round of leasing by the Crown Estate.  SSE are going for the maximum target capacity to help Scotland meet government targets for renewable energy by 2045-50.  Berwick Bank is planned to have 300 or more turbines.

            To get the resulting energy to the south of England, it will go through a connection at Blyth, Northumberland, which Kenny MacAskill MP has described as the Great Berwick Bank Robbery, with no benefit to Scotland at the point of onshoring the energy.

            The Scottish government target of 11GWof offshore wind power by 2030, but potentially could generate 28GW of offshore wind energy.  But Seagreen did not yield community benefits in the form of jobs for BiFab yard on its doorstep.  The contracts went to China and the UAE, with BiFab later going into administration.  Other countries have been able to undercut Scottish firms due to among other things among other things through fears of Scottish government subsidy being against EU state aid rules, which should no longer apply.

            But the ambitious targets of 28,000 offshore wind jobs have not been realised so far, with only 6,700 realised.


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