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5 Mar 2024

Call for ministers to reject proposed Berwick Bank wind farm site

Written by Sarah Burnett
Looking out to sea across rocky cliffs and sea stacks. A rainbow forms a perfect arc on the blue sea horizon.
The proposed site for the Berwick Bank wind farm would change forever the spectacular views at St Abb’s Head. | Image: Rachel Bonnici
Independent polling for the National Trust for Scotland shows that 80% of the public agree that the proposed Berwick Bank development, off St Abb’s Head NNR, should be re-sited.

The National Trust for Scotland has joined forces with other charities in a call for Scottish ministers to reject a renewables development that could wreak unacceptable levels of ecological damage – including to vulnerable seabird populations – off Scotland’s east coast.

Along with RSPB Scotland, Scottish Seabird Centre and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, we have set out our concerns about the siting of the proposed new Berwick Bank Offshore Wind Farm in a letter to Energy, Just Transition and Fair Work Minister, Gillian Martin MSP, as Scottish ministers prepare to make a final decision on SSE Renewables’ (SSE-R) application for Berwick Bank. Ministers will have the final say on whether the application is approved once they have received the Scottish Government Marine Directorate’s recommendation on the proposal, expected shortly.

The proposed wind farm, off St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve (NNR) and Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, would be Scotland’s largest, with over 300 turbines covering an area over four times the size of Edinburgh.

Looking out to sea from a grassy cliff top. A little further below, on a rocky outcrop, a man sits on the cliff top, also looking out to sea.
Over 300 turbines would cover an offshore area more than four times the size of Edinburgh.

While supportive in principle of the expansion of offshore wind generation to combat climate change, we have highlighted a number of worrying concerns about SSE-R’s plans to site the wind farm so close to internationally significant seabird colonies and Special Protection Areas. These include the developer’s approach to identifying Berwick Bank’s impact on seabird numbers, the lack of adequate steps to mitigate its impact, and the effectiveness of its proposed compensation measures.

New independent research for our charity, which cares for St Abb’s Head NNR and has a strategic objective to speak up for Scotland’s heritage, found that a significant majority of the public living in the local area have objections to a wind farm that can cause this level of harm to nature.

  • 80% of respondents agreed that the proposed development should be re-sited offshore to a location where its impacts would be lessened, even if it is more costly for the developer.
  • 84% agreed that protecting the natural environment is vital to the local and national economy.
  • 66% did not believe that significant damage to seabird colonies was a price worth paying to increase Scotland’s renewable energy capacity. Indeed, 82% of people agreed that avoiding impacts on Special Protection Areas was important.
A kittiwake peeps out from behind a rock on a cliff ledge. It has a brilliant white head with a black eye and a bright yellow beak.
At Berwick Bank, kittiwake mortalities are predicted to be seven times higher than those predicted for the Hornsea Three windfarm. | Image: Ciaran Hatsell

Dr Cal Major, ocean and nature advocate, and an ambassador for the National Trust for Scotland, commented: ‘I strongly back this call for Scottish ministers to reject the current Berwick Bank proposal and for SSE-R to re-site the wind farm to a less ecologically damaging location.

‘Our conservation charity supports the expansion of offshore wind farms, which are a vital component of Scotland’s journey to net zero. However, they must be sited in the right places for nature. This location – off St Abb’s Head with its precious seabird colonies – is clearly not the right site.’

“Nature and biodiversity are vital assets in tackling climate change, and we must make sure we don’t put them at irreversible or unnecessary risk in transitioning to net zero – especially seabirds which are such a vital part of the marine ecosystem.”
A woman sits on the edge of a sailing boat out at sea. She holds binoculars around her neck.

Cal continued: ‘One element that especially concerns us is Berwick Bank’s likely impact on seabirds, with predicted mortality rates much higher than other offshore windfarms. For example, seven times as many kittiwakes will be removed from the population, per GW of energy produced, than at Hornsea Three where predicted impacts are already considered to be high. It’s surely unacceptable to create this additional threat to colonies, when seabirds such as puffins, kittiwakes, gannets and razorbills are already under huge pressure from climate change, dwindling food supplies and avian flu. Re-siting Berwick Bank gives them at least some chance of recovery.’

The National Trust for Scotland commissioned the research to explore local opinions on proposals for development of Berwick Bank. The poll was conducted by ScotPulse, with a sample of adults living within areas affected by recent offshore wind development proposals: East Lothian, Borders, Fife and Angus. Fieldwork was conducted 26–30 January 2024. There were 811 respondents.

Read the full letter to Gillian Martin MSP, Minister for Energy, Just Transition and Fair Work