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BSG was once again present at our stand at the RenewableUK conference this year in Manchester. Dr Peter Shepherd presented a paper to the conference session on ecological evidence titled “A Review of Ecological Issues at Wind Farm Public Inquiries”. The paper arose out of research Peter undertook in support of appearances over the last few years as an expert witness for appellants at public inquiries into wind farm applications. It is based on a review of 84 planning inspector’s reports from England and Scotland over the last 8 years. The principal finding was that in 81% of the inspector’s reports reviewed reference to ecological issues were raised either as a main or “other” issue, or as a minor requirement in proposed planning conditions, indicating that ecology issues is often an issue requiring attention.
The research split ecological issues into those relating to birds, those relating to bats and those relating to “other” ecological issues. Of the 84 reports, 47 addressed bird issues, and for 47% of these birds was one of the main issues at inquiry. Of the appeals made 42.5% were dismissed by the inspector but only 3 (6.3%) concluded that issues relating to birds was a reason for refusal of the appeal. Forty inspector’s reports considered bats, of which 42.5% had bats as a main issue at inquiry. Of the appeals made 50% were dismissed of which 2 (10%) concluded that impacts on bats was a reason for refusal. Other ecological issues were not considered to be a main issue in the cases reviewed and none were given as a reason for refusal.
Peter considered in his presentation some particular issues associated with the bird and bat cases that were refused. A range of concerns were raised by objectors and inspectors including: insufficient or poorly executed baseline survey leading to inadequate assessment of impacts, impacts on internationally designated sites, impacts on rare species (e.g. barbastelle), and the legal protection given to particular species. The emphasis on the quality of baseline survey work was particularly striking and reinforces the need to make sure baseline survey work is appropriate and proportionate to the potential impacts and the circumstances of each site.