RSPB say: "At the last minute, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) changed their plans for managing the sensitive peatland habitats, triggering the need to advertise the revised plans and for a new consultation with other interested parties.
"Unfortunately, SSE had changed their plans so late that there was insufficient time to allow the new plans to be fully scrutinised before the inquiry started, forcing the delay."
But an SSE spokesperson says: “It is disappointing that the RSPB appears to have sought to mislead with their public statements. They have had information about the Habitat Management Plan as part of the public inquiry documentary process since the 23 March. To claim they have only just received it is just simply incorrect."
The windfarm’s impacts on birds will not now be considered until June, but the remainder of the inquiry is instead scheduled to start on Thursday (23rd April), with impacts on peatland habitats only to be considered.
RSPB Scotland is calling for the peatland session also to be delayed until June to ensure there is sufficient time to consider SSE’s new peatland management plans.
Aedán Smith, RSPB Scotland Head of Planning and Development, said: “The whole approach to this site by Scottish and Southern Energy has been extremely disappointing.
“Unfortunately, SSE have not heeded concerns from others about the damage their development would cause and it seems they have carried this approach into the inquiry. While all other parties have done their best to stick to deadlines, SSE have been late for almost every one. This has put the reporter in a very difficult position and forced this delay, inconveniencing all those involved.
“Given the circumstances, we fully support the Reporter’s decision to delay consideration of bird impacts until June, but this is one of Europe’s best peatland habitats. The implications of SSE’s new peatland habitat management proposals need to be scrutinised in detail, and there’s now simply insufficient time to do this before Thursday.
“We are very worried that this shortage of time will mean RSPB Scotland cannot present full information to inquiry, prejudicing our case. Frustratingly, this is only of further advantage to SSE, who caused these problems in the first place.”
The spokesperson for SSE said: "It is unfortunate that due to procedural issues the ornithology session for the Public Inquiry for Strathy South wind farm has been postponed.
"SSE will continue to engage in all aspects of this process and looks forward to the remaining Inquiry sessions this week and the rearranged ornithology session examining the relevant issues objectively.
“SSE is a responsible developer with an established Highland heritage and we have set out to design the Strathy South project to deliver positive environmental gain overall – that is, to both generate clean energy whilst restoring and positively managing thousands of hectares of damaged peatland. We also intend to create significant investment in the local and wider Highland economy, as is already happening through Strathy North wind farm.”