Hen harriers are at the centre of a row over the methodology used by wind farm developers to estimate bird numbers.
And it is a row that campaigners – objecting to plans by wind farm operator Infinis to erect 17 turbines at Windy Edge, close to the historic Hermitage Castle – say has major implications for the way all wind farm developers conduct mandatory bird studies.
The controversy was sparked by a submission earlier this month to Scottish Borders Council’s planning department of a report by the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (LMDP).
Part of the project, which is a partnership comprising Buccleuch Estates, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, RSPB and Natural England, is to demonstrate how conflicts between raptors and grouse can be resolved.
An integral element involves maintaining the local hen harrier population, as the project area is classed as a site of international importance for the species.
Since 2010, a proportion of the harrier chicks fledged at Langholm have been fitted with satellite tags which monitor their progress.
The row centres on the methodology used by Infinis’ environmental experts to assess bird numbers, which came up with the figure of a solitary hen harrier flying over the proposed site.
But according to LMDP bird experts, satellite tracking telemetry from tagged hen harriers shows they are much more frequent visitors to the Windy Edge site than claimed.
LMDP staff have dimissed Infinis’ environmental assessment as “inadequate” and disputed the assertion there would be no ornithological impact from the proposed wind farm.
LMDP says the application should be opposed because it believes the hen harrier population would be at a “substantially increased risk” and that the turbine scheme would “undermine” what has been a costly experiement.
Malcom McGregor, chair of the Hermitage Action Group fighting the Windy Edge scheme, wants Scottish Government ministers to seek a moritorium on wind farms until this matter is clarified.
“This is clearly of prime concern,” Mr McGregor told us this week.
“If it is indeed the case that the present methodology used for the ornithology component of environmental statements is flawed and found wanting, then untold damage may have already been done to rare species, due to collision fatality with wind turbines.
“If this is the case, then this damage to rare bird species and others cannot be undone, but at least by applying the cautionary principle, further fatalities may be prevented.”
Infinis spokesman, Chris Little, says the firm’s environmental assessment was carried out in accordance with SNH-approved methodology.
“Infinis has requested to see the details of the LMDP report and this will be passed to its experts to see what the issues are,” he said.
And, according to Mr Little, it appears the application will not now be determined at the end of October, but rather at some date early in the new year.