Windfarm developer Viking Energy has become the subject of a police investigation after contractors assessing a data mast site in the Mid Kames were accused of showing a “callous disregard” for wildlife by disturbing a pair of breeding red-throated divers.
The complaint has been made by Scottish Natural Heritage, which was duty-bound to alert Northern Constabulary after being notified of what he alleged was illegal behaviour by Shetland Geotours operator Allen Fraser.
However despite having made the complaint the heritage body said it had no evidence of red-throated divers, a protected species, nesting in the Mid Kames for the last seven years.
And Viking Energy project co-ordinator Allan Wishart vehemently denied that any birds had been disturbed and insisted that work on erecting the masts was within both the law and planning guidelines.
Mr Fraser said he saw the birds on Petta Water being disturbed on two separate occasions – on 28th May and 3rd June – by a tracked “caterpillar-type” vehicle as it travelled from the main road to Mid Kame close to the north end of Petta Water.
He said the vehicle also appeared to be breaching strict planning conditions that recommend keeping to the west side of the Mid Kame ridge summit while making its approach.
“In recklessly disturbing a pair of red-throated divers, which had been on the loch for at least a week, Viking Energy has displayed a callous disregard for Shetland’s wildlife and environment,” he said.
“Because of this a formal complaint has now been made to SNH and I believe police enquiries are pending.”
He questioned why data masts needed to be erected during the bird breeding season, as the data collected would only have any significance after a lengthy period of time.
“Perhaps this is another example of flawed judgement and lack of understanding of Shetland’s natural environment by Viking Energy’s project co-ordinator [Allan Wishart].
“Surely a project co-ordinator who is also an SIC councillor should be much better at co-ordination and liaison between SIC planning and Viking Energy.”
Mr Wishart said: “We had ornithologists on site who can confirm that none of our activities caused any problems for any bird species.
“The ornithologists specifically inspected Petta Water before and after the works and found no evidence of breeding red-throated divers or disturbance. Only transient birds have been on the loch.
“This accords with years of historical data gathered as part of the studies for the wider project.”
He added: “Before starting work our proposals – including method statements, details of the access routes and reports on the ornithology – were submitted to planning and advice was sought from Scottish Natural Heritage, who are the regulatory body with responsibility for the protection of birds.
“We take our responsibilities towards the environment very seriously and have complied absolutely with the planning conditions, the guidelines set by SNH, and importantly the law. We have requested no changes to any planning conditions.”
He said Viking Energy had not heard from the police but would co-operate fully with any inquiry.
A spokesman for Scottish Natural Heritage confirmed a letter of complaint had been received concerning the apparent disturbance of red-throated divers.
He said the Mid Kames had not been used as a breeding site for red-throated divers for the last seven years, even though around half of the British population of the bird was in Shetland.
“A survey was done quite recently and there was no evidence of breeding birds using the same bit of land,” he said.
Police inspector Ross MacKillop said the alleged incidents were being investigated by the force’s wildlife liaison officer based in Whalsay.