BSG Ecology has provided technical ecological and ornithological inputs to Due Diligence work on behalf of Peel Group concerning the potential acquisition of eleven proposed Scottish wind farms, including a portfolio of sites offered for sale by a renewables developer.
The brief in each case was to assess the available information, identify potentially significant ecological and ornithological constraints and complications to development, and estimate the cost of dealing with them. Project locations have included Shetland, Highland, the Central Belt and the Scottish Borders; with a number of the proposed wind farms situated close to Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).
The sites varied in altitude and character, with some being entirely commercially afforested, and others a mosaic of moorland habitats in both upland and coastal situations. This meant that a wide range of ornithological and ecological receptors had to be considered. The projects were also at various different stages in the planning system, some having little or no supporting ecological information; and some being well progressed (in one case the site had previously been taken to appeal).
BSG Ecology’s Role
Providing clear advice for each project required:
- Initial study of aerial photographs and maps to gain an initial understanding of context, habitat type / quality and connectivity.
- Determination of the proximity of European and nationally designated sites (SPAs and SACs, and SSSIs), and a preliminary assessment of likely functional linkage.
- A review of the scope of survey completed against that recommended in industry standard guidance.
- Identification of significant data gaps (reflecting departures from guidance or failure to adapt survey work to satisfactorily investigate a particular issue).
- Review of all consultation documents to identify any omissions to the scope of discussions and the degree of concern of consultees.
- Review of all technical outputs, including impact assessments, modelling of results and the commitments made in outline habitat management plans.
- An assessment of the risk, associated timelines and cost of having to repeat some elements of survey due to the age of data for some species / species groups.
- Advice on the proportionality of draft / suggested planning conditions and (on one occasion) on whether the reasons for refusal were robust.
- Calculation of the approximate fees for survey work or the costs of other commitments likely to be inherited by Peel.
As each review proceeded, key ecological comments and questions were fed back to the client to inform or influence ongoing negotiations. These included comments on the quality of work, requests for missing technical information, or for evidence that land management commitments had been agreed with landowners (and that the project was therefore deliverable in principle).
Concise reports were produced, identifying ecological / ornithological sensitivities and a considered, professional view with regard to the likely timelines and cost associated with the preparation of a robust application (or alternative way forward). The conclusions of each report were presented clearly to allow the development team to assimilate them with the results of similar reviews provided by other technical disciplines with ease.
Our work allowed project risk from ecology and ornithology to be properly considered. In some cases, often in combination with other factors, this was considered to affect the viability of a project to the extent that acquisition was not taken forward.
Peel did, however, subsequently make the decision to purchase the proposed Beaw Field Wind Farm on Yell, Shetland, which we advised on. A planning application was submitted for the seventeen turbine scheme in March 2016.