Sustainability – Has the race to space sacrificed Scotland’s natural landscape?

29th Aug 2023
Sustainability – Has the race to space sacrificed Scotland’s natural landscape?

The plan to open up two vertical launch sites in the North of Scotland is proceeding at a heady pace, but is it to the detriment of the Scottish landscape and protected wildlife? Is sustainability being brushed aside despite all the noise about environmental impact studies and expectations?

Sustainability at Saxa Vord

One such site is the Saxa Vord Spaceport in the Shetland Isles, which has received planning permission despite a huge number of objections (mostly on environmental grounds). And despite being given planning permission, the local council itself also rejected the Environmental Impact Study put forward by the site management. So, the council is waiting for that to be revised.

The big question here is whether progress is being pushed through regardless of any potentially negative impact on the local environment. The answer to this isn’t so clear. 

Amongst those who objected to the launch site was RSPB Scotland, who had concerns about noise from the launches disturbing local breeding bird populations, particularly in a Special Protected Area just under 4km from the launch site where two particularly rare species of bird breed.

Sutherland peat bogs under question

The organisation also expressed concern over the removal of peat from the Sutherland Spaceport, down the west coast of Scotland and close to another area of Special Scientific Interest. Peat bogs are one of the most effective ways of capturing carbon and can go quite some way towards us achieving a Net Zero Scotland. However, this site has also been given the go ahead. 

While we do understand the positive impact that space has on the environment (without rocket launches there would be no Earth monitoring satellites), it remains a concern that planning may have been pushed through to the detriment of the local environment.

The discussion should remain in the public domain, and we hope that all necessary counter measures are put in place to ensure Scotland’s natural beauty and wildlife remains relatively undisturbed.

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