Extinction Rebellion condemn Scottish spaceport plans as ‘reckless’

Plans to build a rocket-launching space port beside a vast tract of protected peatland in the Highlands have been condemned as “reckless” by environmentalists.

The objections follow the official submission of a planning application for Space Hub Sutherland at Melness, near Tongue, which is set to be Europe’s first vertical launch site.

If it is approved, up to 12 launches a year could eventually be made from the site, with rockets carrying small, commercial satellites that would typically be used for observation purposes.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Development agency Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) says the space port could create up to 250 jobs across Scotland, 44 of which would go to members of the local community.

An artist's impression of the spaceport that would be built on North Uist

But the environmental group Extinction Rebellion said the site’s proximity to the Flow Country, a vast area of boggy peatland in the running for World Heritage Site status, was unacceptable.

Widely considered to be the largest area of blanket bog in the world, it covers around 1,500 square miles and is capable of storing 400m tonnes of carbon dioxide – more than every tree in the UK.

Extinction Rebellion said the planned space port was “reckless and potentially extremely damaging”, adding that it would “put the fragile peatland ecosystem at huge risk, be that through fuel leaks, pollution or explosions”.

Kate Willis, Extinction Rebellion’s representative in the Highlands, said the construction of the space port was “contradictory” to Highland Council’s declaration of a climate emergency last year.

“Investment must focus on the development of a green low carbon economy and re-wilding, particularly in sensitive areas such as the Flow Country,” she added.

The environmental pressure group has joined forces with concerned local residents to call for others around the world to object to the development by commenting on its planning application.

David Oxley, director of business growth at HIE, said: “Over the past two years, leading environmental consultants have assessed the impact that launch operations could have on the land and wildlife around the launch site.

“They have advised us on how best to ensure protection, including measures to restore significant areas of peatland that have been damaged by past activity.”