RSPB Scotland recently organised a cruise on the Forth, to bring together stakeholders and others who deal with and/or are involved in the marine environment, specifically offshore renewable projects.

It was an interesting evening with a wide breadth of the offshore renewable industry represented including the sponsors Repsol.

I enjoyed learning about RSPB’s approach. It prompted me to think about the recent Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Act and its implications. The headline issue in the Act, on which the media coverage has been focused, is the tightening up of rules of offences against wild birds.

The key change is that landowners/employers may now be held prosecuted for offences carried out by their employees or contractors. This is clearly a big issue for landowners and, as controlling the use of their land is a key driver for them, this issue is probably something renewable developers should have an awareness of, even if it’s unlikely to affect their operations directly.

A few of the less-publicised issues in the Act may, however, be worth a mention. Areas of Special Protection (bird sanctuaries) have been abolished, but that is not as major as it sounds because duplicate protection exists in other legislation.

The Act also changes the provisions relating to species licensing so that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has almost exclusive responsibility for all protected species licensing (aside from certain matters which remain with Marine Scotland – mainly relating to seals (we saw quite a few of these on the cruise), whales & dolphins). Previously licences were obtained from local authorities, SNH, Marine Scotland and/or the Scottish Ministers and it was a rather confusing system. Coupled with the recent changes to marine licensing brought in by the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 (on which fellow Brodies’ blogger, Robert Seaton, can advise) the overall system for licensing should be more streamlined in future.

The rules on sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) have also been improved and, amongst other things, SNH can now amalgamate two or more SSSIs into one. It will also be easier for SNH to serve restoration notices on owners, where there is illegal damage to a SSSI, as it will no longer need to go to the court first.

For completeness I should also mention that the Act makes a variety of other changes to the rules on game law, badgers, snaring, deer management, muirburn and other such exciting things on which Brodies is well placed to advise.

The cruise was most enjoyable (fortunately the sun was shining). We saw seals and, my favourite, puffin. The oil tanker in the horizon was perhaps not so pretty, but was a reminder that nature can indeed coexist with the offshore industry.

Note: With thanks to my colleague, Lorna Ronald, in Brodies’ Agriculture and Estates team for her input to this blog.

Renewable Energy