The impact of wind turbines in the Borders on three rare species of bat is to be the focus of a major new study by a Scottish Government agency.
It is being commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) which has this week highlighted the “urgent need” for the research which will cover the south of Scotland and span nearly two years.
There are currently around 600 turbines either operating or consented in the Scottish Borders.
The SNH contract will be awarded at the end of June with fieldwork due to take place during August and September this year and in May and June, 2016. Findings will be published in March, 2017.
“The study aims to improve our understanding of the distribution and status of three of our rarer bat species considered to be at high risk from wind turbines,” states SNH in its procurement notice.
The three endangered species comprise two of the Nyctalus genus – Liesler’s Bat and the Noctule – along with the migratory Nathusius’ Pipistrelle.
“Our understanding of the status of these species in Scotland is inadequate, but they are scarce and have restricted ranges,” says SNH.
“The south of Scotland has one of the highest densities of wind farms in Britain and all three species have been reported in pre-construction surveys of many of these sites as well as several currently proposed ones.
“Given their rarity and also their vulnerability to wind turbines, there is an urgent need for better, more comprehensive information of what their [the bats’] respective ranges are.”
The agency has already stressed the “considerable evidence” of bats colliding with blades or succumbing to barotrauma - fatal lung damage resulting from the sudden drop in air pressure close to a turbine.
“The risk is clearly greatest if turbines are located within space that bats frequently use,” says SNH mammals expert Rob Raynor.
“Hedges and woodland edges are common flyways, but they may also be along any boundary feature, especially in the absence of better cover.”
The SNH move comes as another branch of the Scottish Government, committed to meeting ambitious renewable energy targets, is about to consult on the removal of a 50km “consultation zone” around the Ministry of Defence’s seismic monitoring station at Eskdalemuir in Dumfriesshire.
If the restriction is lifted, a 35-km-wide swathe of land in the western and central Borders, encompassing the settlements of Peebles, Innerleithen, Galashiels, Selkirk, Melrose, Jedburgh and Newcastleton, will be opened up to renewable energy companies without fear of the accustomed veto from the MoD.
A Scottish Government working group has concluded that the move will “maximise the potential of wind energy generation in the wider radius”.