An Taisce Appeal Slieve Callan Wind Farm Approval

17th February 2017
News Item

An Taisce have made an appeal to An Bord Pleanála against the decision of Clare County Council to grant permission to Brookfield Renewable Ireland Ltd to construction of a wind farm comprising 11 turbines on Slieve Callan in Co. Clare. The potential impact on Hen Harriers is the main grounds of our appeal.

The Hen Harrier is a species identified for protection under Annex I of the Birds Directive. The application site is not located within an SPA, however, under Article 4 of the Birds Directive, Member States are required to strive to avoid pollution or deterioration of habitats of interest in areas outside specifically identified protection areas.

Based on best available evidence in the field, the Hen Harrier is Ireland’s rarest declining resident breeding bird species listed on Annex I of the Birds Directive. The Hen harrier is one of the best researched species in Ireland and based on the last two national breeding Hen Harrier surveys undertaken in 2010 and 2015 it is clear that the breeding Hen Harrier population, both nationally and in the six Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated to protect this iconic upland breeding species continues to decline (Ruddock et al., 2012; 2016). Overall, nationally the following has been recorded:

• 15% decline in confirmed breeding pairs in the last 5 years;

• a 33% breeding population decline in all areas studied in every national quinquennial survey over last 15 years; and

• a 52% decline in estimated breeding pairs over the last 40 years.

Based on the 2010 and 2015 National Breeding Hen Harrier Survey data it is clear that the area of the proposed wind farm is extremely important for Hen Harrier. It is one of the areas which has undergone the greatest decline in breeding pairs in recent years. This decline corresponds with the loss of foraging and breeding habitat, the maturation of commercial forestry and the construction of a number of wind farms locally. It is our considered opinion that the EIS and in particular the surveys for breeding and foraging Hen Harriers are fundamentally flawed as the assessment was based on a period of closed canopy commercial forestry and does not accurately identify the value of the habitat on site post felling. If the wind farm is constructed then it is likely that over the full cycle of the forestry on site, the regional Hen Harrier population would be negatively impacted. Such impacts may occur as a result of:

• The loss of habitat on site and in adjacent lands due to disturbance.

• Increased levels of mortality due to hen harrier collisions with wind turbine blades - the felling of forestry on site is likely to attract foraging Hen Harrier and unintentionally increase the likelihood of collisions.

The decision to approve this application has not adequately taken into account the seriousness of the national and regional decline of the breeding Hen Harrier population nor did it consider the consequences of the outlined negative impacts outlined in this context.

It is our considered opinion that the subject proposal would be contrary to 17.8 (a) and 17.9 (a) of the Clare County Development Plan which states that it is an objective of the Council to:

Ensure the protection and conservation of areas, sites, species and ecological networks/ corridors of local biodiversity value outside of designated sites throughout the County

and

To protect and promote the sustainable management of the natural heritage, flora and fauna of the County through the promotion of biodiversity, the conservation of natural habitats and the enhancement of new and existing habitats;

According to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the North and West Clare area is within the areas in the country for designated and undesignated breeding Hen Harrier (Appendix 1). According to the 2015 National Survey of Breeding Hen Harrier there were 12-16 breeding pairs in 2010 and 3-9 in 2015 in North and West Clare. According to the survey authors “Overall north and west Clare has declined considerably since 2010 from the 12 – 16 pairs recorded, which represented the highest numbers for this area across all national surveys. The recorded declines since 2010 are primarily the result of reduced densities in occupied squares in west Clare, as increased activity was recorded in north Clare which held one possible pair in an area where breeding evidence has not been recorded in previous surveys. Despite declines since 2010, numbers recorded in north and west Clare have increased since the 2005 and 1998 – 2000 surveys.

Therefore based on the 2015 National Hen Harrier Survey data, 6 or potentially two thirds of the total breeding Hen harrier population (3-9 pairs) of one of the most important areas for breeding Hen Harrier in the country are located within foraging distance of the site.

Two National Co-ordinators of the 2015 National Hen Harrier Survey Dr Allan Mee and Tony Nagel confirmed that there were two confirmed nesting attempts in the 5km hinterland of the proposed development site – one at Tullaghaboy and one near Doolough. Both sites are in close proximity to the development site. The National and the EIS breeding surveys have identified two breeding pairs and a number of other possible breeding pairs with a maximum of 6 potential breeding pairs recorded by the 2015 National Hen Harrier Survey. The DoAHG have identified one breeding pair on the site.

The National Survey also recorded the regional breakdown of cumulative pressures to show total number of pressure records (Pressure Index 1) and standardised (Pressure Index 2 = total number of pressures / total number of visits to square) within 500m and 2km of Hen Harrier territories and/or suitable hen harrier breeding habitats. The North and West Clare study area had among the highest levels of recorded pressures in the country (Annex II). Windfarm construction and operation would add negatively to this. The 2015 breeding season bird survey also identified Hen Harrier as the most important species on site with 34 flight lines recorded in the EIS project area. 27 of the sightings involved Male Hen Harrier with seven sightings of ringtails. Given the greater foraging distances of Male Hen Harriers it is possible that the observed male Hen Harriers were part of significant regional breeding pairs. This is supported by the identification of a nest site in the Tullaghaboy area in 2015. Dr Barry O’Donoghue also identified a breeding pair in the Doolough in the 2015 breeding season. Such pairs are all the more significant given the extreme regional breeding population collapse in recent years.

According to the Winter Season Survey a total of 16 Hen Harrier Flight lines were recorded in the EIS Project Area. The short duration of sightings noted in the EIS is again typical of Hen Harriers commuting through closed canopy commercial forestry. The EIS is insufficient in providing details relating to the duration of sighting of Hen Harriers when forestry is cleared, creating more suitable foraging habitat.

Due to the habitat potential and the high Hen Harrier activity that has been recorded, it is our considered opinion that the proposal would have a negative impact on the local Hen Harrier population. Due to the existing windfarms in the vicinity of the site, it is considered that the cumulative displacements effects are likely to be significantly negative. As previously noted, the application proposes to fell 12.55 ha for Habitats and Species Management Plan Lands, as a habitats enhancement measure to benefit Hen Harriers in the local area. It is our considered opinion that this mitigation measure is inadequate when considering the overall footprint of the subject proposal and the cumulative impact of surrounding granted and operations wind farms.

Conclusion

It is our considered opinion that the proposed development does not comply with the objectives and policies of the Clare County Development Plan and would have a negative impact on the important Hen Harrier population in the area. The above assertion is made based on a review of the relevant Development Plan and the Planning File pertaining to the proposed development. An Taisce have requested that An Bord Pleanala overturn the decision of Clare County Council.