THE RSPB has been accused of double standards by pushing ahead with plans for a £9.6 million development on the largest expanse of blanket peatland bogs in the world.
Objectors claim the project at the internationally famous 1,500-square mile Forsinard Flows nature reserve in Caithness and Sutherland – said to play an important role in the battle against climate change – flies in the face of the “conservation values” promoted by the charity.
Protesters are now lobbying the Heritage Lottery Fund in a bid to block an application for cash for a proposed field centre and viewing observatory. Some local people have made their opposition clear by daubing one-metre high graffiti on a shed with the words: “No to RSPB plans, no!”
Despite the objections, planning consent has already been granted for a two-storey field centre at the nature reserve and a viewing observatory on a trail.
Protesters hope the Lottery Fund will reject the funding application and effectively halt the controversial project. A decision on the application is expected next month.
Osbert Doehl, who lives in the hamlet of Forsinard and is leading the campaign against the development, said: “The funny aspect to this is that we are objecting on environmental grounds against the UK’s largest conservation charity.
“We are not against a field centre or research laboratory, but this is the wrong proposal.
“This will shatter our peace and quiet, affect our water supply and the environment. It will attract more people to the area, which will have an effect on the wildlife. The RSPB is seeking a centre with a woodchip heating plant, which is not environmentally friendly.”
The German-born mining engineer, of Forsinard Lodge, said people would prefer the new centre to be based at the redundant local hotel which is currently on the market. Residents have called the planned field centre a “modern monstrosity adorned with wood and glass”.
Another local, Linda Bower, accused the RSPB of “double standards” and said: “Their plans to build a new field centre and observatory are opposed by every single household in the area immediate to where the buildings have been proposed.
“The RSPB would actively prevent anyone else attempting to drive across, dig up and build upon their precious bog yet it’s absolutely fine for them to do what they like when it suits.” She claimed the RSPB would be “transforming a sleepy paradise”.
Planners have already given the go-ahead to a two-storey, wooden field centre at the nature reserve and a viewing observatory on the Dubh Lochan trail, but the protesters hope a lack of cash will stop the project.
The centre would house an education room, lab space, offices and accommodation for volunteers, students and researchers. The proposal also involves the construction of new trails, viewpoints and information points, as well as the restoration of seven square miles of peatlands.
Called the “Flow to the Future” project, it is being co- ordinated by the RSPB on behalf of the Peatlands Partnership.
This comprises Highland Council, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB Scotland, Plantlife International and the Environmental Research Institute, Thurso.
Partnership chairman John Henderson said the project would generate significant benefits for local communities and businesses, as well as help to restore some areas of peatland.