RSPB accused of hypocrisy after it allows energy firm to build power station in nature reserve

Helena Horton
Planning maps show the power station (in red) will be on the nature reserve (in blue)

The RSPB has been accused of hypocrisy after allowing  a power station to be built on one of its nature reserves, with noise pollution from the construction likely to affect rare birds in protected areas.

Plans for the power plant have been released by Statera at the RSPB Saltholme reserve near Middlesborough, adjacent to government-designated special bird protection areas.

The lowest acceptable noise for birds is, according to experts, around 50 decibels. Construction, planning documents show, will cause noise pollution levels of 75db at the potential Special Protection Area nearby and 65db at the Special Protection Area.

These are areas of high ecological significance and contain red-listed birds including curlews and lapwings. Excessive noise can prohibit birds from breeding and avoiding predators, according to a study published last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some have also pointed out that the bird charity has called for the government to commit to a zero fossil fuel future, and supported climate change movement Extinction Rebellion - but has allowed a fossil fuel power station to be built on the reserve it manages.

Curlews can be seen in the area Credit: Sandra Standbridge/Moment RF 

Former cricket star Sir Ian Botham said: "The public expect environmental charities to act green as well as talk green. They will struggle to understand how the RSPB both supports Extinction Rebellion and yet is renting out a bird reserve for a fossil fuel power station. It will be interesting to find out how much Statera will pay the RSPB over the lifetime of this project.”

“You could hardly make this up,” said local resident Maria Shannon. "The RSPB says there is a climate emergency - and then takes money to build a fossil fuel power station in a bird reserve which is so noisy that it could harm the birds.” 

However, the RSPB has argued that the area of the reserve in which the power station will be built is not one of high ecological significance.

The organisation added that any noise will be monitored on an ongoing basis, and regulated by the Environment Agency and currently completely complies.

A spokesperson for the RSPB added: “The RSPB wouldn’t allow the proposed development to go ahead if we thought it would have an impact on the local wildlife. At our Saltholme reserve, we have, with the support of landowners the Teesside Environmental Trust, created a haven for nature in the heart of one of the UK’s most industrialised areas.

“The RSPB supports calls for the UK to become net zero on carbon emissions by 2050. This is not something that can be achieved overnight, and facilities such as the one proposed for Saltholme will be important in helping the energy sector to transition, by giving short periods of generation to cover peak load periods whilst providing a modern and more efficient source of energy than large and inefficient powerplants. This is not the answer long-term, but we believe it is a step in the right direction.”

Oliver Troup of Statera Energy said that noise levels would be compliant with Environment Agency rules and that their energy plants are high efficiency, and produce the lowest cost, lowest carbon, back-up power at the fastest rate possible which is a key requirement for the grid at times of ‘peak power’.