Published: 27/03/2014 23:59 - Updated: 27/03/2014 15:04

Forsinard community makes feelings clear to RSPB

OBJECTORS are making their feelings plain about plans to develop RSPB Scotland’s Forsinard Flows nature reserve.

A corrugated iron shed on the roadside outside Forsinard has been daubed with the metre high words: "No to RSPB Plans No!"

The graffiti appeared in advance of a presentation to be held next week on the ambitious £9.6 million project.

Other signs have been posted around the village saying "RSPB not welcome here – Forsinard community".

The majority of householders in the hamlet are understood to be against the development.

But planning consent has already been granted for a two storey, wooden field centre at the nature reserve and a viewing observatory on the Dubh Lochan Trail.

The new centre will house an education room, lab space, offices and accommodation for volunteers, students and researchers.

The project 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 coordinated by the RSPB on behalf of the Peatlands Partnership.

The partnership comprises Highland Council, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB Scotland, Plantlife International and the Environmental Research Institute, Thurso.

It is hoped funding will be forthcoming from the Heritage Lottery and a decision is expected in May.

Local people have called the planned field centre a "modern monstrosity adorned with wood and glass".

Residents fear their current water supply will be affected by the new builds and are concerned at the prospect of increased traffic, pollution, noise and litter

They also appear to be angry that the RSPB did not purchase the Forsinard Hotel, which was on the market, and turn it into the field centre.

Having failed to block planning consent, objectors are now trying to stymie the funding by objecting to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Linda Bower, Station Cottages, stated in a letter to the Northern Times: "I would say confidently that they (RSPB/Peatland Partnership) do not have the backing of the residents of Forsinard, in any shape or form.

"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."

Ms Bower accused the RSPB of double standards, stating: "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 them."

She said people chose to live at Forsinard because of its remoteness, peacefulness, emptiness and real sense of traditions.

She claimed the RSPB would be "transforming a sleepy paradise".

But in a statement issued earlier this week, partnership chairman John Henderson pointed out the project would generate significant benefits for local communities and businesses as well as help to restore some important areas of peatland.

He said: "Much of the £9.6 million budget should directly benefit local businesses.

"Construction of the proposed buildings and roadside information sites will bring about £1.8 million of new spend that local contractors can benefit from.

"Local contractors will also be in a good position, given their experience in carrying out peatland restoration work, to bid for and deliver the £950,000 per annum of work planned over a period of five years to restore seven square miles of peatland."

Mr Henderson said the project would draw in visitors and support tourism in the north.

Regarding the new observatory, he said: "It was not an easy decision to put a building on the peatland, but it will be done in such a way that there will be little, if any, impact on the peat.

"We think it will increase people’s enjoyment of their visit and generate more interest in the area."

He continued: "We believe that the Flow Country has the potential to become a key wildlife tourism destination for UK audiences.

"Several major venues, including Kew Gardens in London and the Glasgow Science Centre, have already noted an interest in hosting a proposed touring exhibition. This will include a ‘fly through’ experience, using new technology, to create a digital model which demonstrates the scale of the Flows.

"Creative activities are also proposed both in Caithness and Sutherland and beyond, using the arts to help people to engage with the Flows. Both Glasgow School of Art and Edinburgh College of Art are keen to work with the Peatlands Partnership on these activities."

The presentation will be held on Thursday at 7pm in Halladale Hall, Strath Halladale. Everyone is welcome.

For further information contact project development manager Caroline Eccles on 01463 715000 or flowtothefuture@rspb.org.uk

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