Uist’s Local Energy Plan published
“For the people of Uist energy is an existential issue, not just because the islands are on the outer edge of the UK National Grid and are particularly affected by power outages, but because Uist is on the front line of climate change due to the low-lying topography and exposure to Atlantic storms.”
A long running, far reaching community led project came to fruition last month with the publication of the Uist Local Energy Plan.
Produced jointly by North Uist Development Company, Community Energy Scotland and Coimhearsnachd Bharraigh agus Bhatarsaidh, the Plan provides some fascinating detail on our ‘status quo’ and goes on to set out the local priorities and development actions required to take us to a more secure and sustainable energy system.
Over 400 Uist residents helped shape the Plan over the last two years, with work led by an eight-strong steering group and championed within the community by eight Local Energy Ambassadors.
A comprehensive community engagement exercise included ‘energy cafés’, a ‘community ideas’ survey, information and feedback sessions with primary and secondary school pupils, local business meetings and tailored sessions with vulnerable community members to help ensure that everyone in Uist had the opportunity to contribute their thoughts on what a better local energy system might look like.
The result is a Plan that ACTUALLY reflects the views and aspirations of those of us who live and work here in Uist.
Using the community’s feedback, the project team put together a list of 40 potential proposals, ranking suggestions and ideas, from a ‘local smart grid with local sustainable generation’, which was supported by 84 respondents, to ‘investigate the potential for local hydropower and implement projects accordingly’, which was supported by only seven.
From this long list, the five top-ranking priorities were put forward for progression:
• Local smart grid with local sustainable generation, making use of resources e.g. wind energy and local sales of electricity for self-sufficiency (as independent as possible from the mainland grid to minimise exports & ideally for reduced local energy costs)
• Investigate the potential for local wave energy and local tidal energy (including tidal built into causeways) and implement projects accordingly
• Each township to have its own renewable energy generation assets e.g. wind and storage facilities with a local network (including potential for network of district heating schemes)
• Multi-purpose demand responsive eco-friendly community transport vehicles available to residents i.e. community electric minibuses in each township
• Create more community growing spaces, including more allotments, and food growing groups
The Project team then delivered an ‘Early Stage Feasibility Report’ for each of the top five community priorities.
The Plan concludes by setting out 33 actions that can take Uist in the right direction, from tactical quick wins such as ‘increased frequency, better connectivity and decarbonised public transport’, to longer term strategic goals.
The end result is a blueprint for a better Uist, setting out the information we need to transform our energy systems for the benefit of our community and our planet.
Commenting on the publication of the Uist Local Energy Plan, Rona MacKay, CES’s Benbecula-based Head of Operation & Governance said:
“Studies and consultations in Uist are frequently done by mainland consultants. We set out to prove that our small community has both the technical knowledge and the community engagement skills to create a high quality report, which is truly reflective of our community’s needs and aspirations. The engagement beautifully reflected island and Gaelic community life and the impact that policy can have, not only on our economy, but on our culture and way of life. Many thanks to the Steering Group and all the partners for their hard work, and to the Uist community for their willing participation.”
Calum Iain Maciver, Depute Chief Executive at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said:
“Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is pleased to have supported the Uist community in the preparation of the ambitious Uist Local Energy Plan. These islands lie in the front line in the battle against Climate Change, under threat from rising sea levels and an increased incidence of extreme storm events. At the same time, the existing National Grid struggles to provide a resilient electricity supply to the islands and is unable to accommodate the volume of renewable energy generation required to transition Uist society to Net Zero in an acceptable timescale.
“It is to the credit of the Uist community that they have recognised and embraced these challenges to come up with a Local Energy Plan which will enhance local energy self-sufficiency through off-Grid ‘private wire’ solutions, harness the power of wave and tide for local energy, develop locally powered district heat schemes, expand demand-responsive low carbon travel options and increase on-island food security. These are all vital steps in the journey towards Net Zero.
“This new Local Energy Plan places Uist in the vanguard of energy-aware communities across the UK.”
Third anniversary marks early loan repayment
This summer marked an important anniversary for North Uist’s community owned renewables project.
UistWind successfully completed the full early settlement of the Scottish Government’s Energy Investment Fund (EIF) Junior Loan, just three years after the two turbines at Clachan were first commissioned.
The early repayment was made possible by a refund following a previous SSEN overcharge, and as a result of final construction costs coming in under budget, which meant there were funds remaining from the original construction loan.
The Junior Loan had incurred interested charges of 7.5% and its early repayment marks a major milestone for the company, allowing it to save £400,000 over the lifetime of the project and to support the community benefit aims in the longer term.
Catherine MacLeod, Uist Wind Chair, said: “This project has faced numerous challenges during its development, construction and operation, including the impacts of COVID-19 on resources, such as the availability of contractors to support the project. So being able to reach this point in the project so early on is fantastic news for UistWind, for company investor members and for the whole community.”
This summer also marked the first investor returns for the 220 members who purchased community shares in 2018, over half of whom are based in Uist.
The1.8MW community-owned wind farm in North Uist was first conceived in 2009, overcoming many hurdles before finally setting up in business. The company says its two turbines have performed well to date, generating more energy than expected this summer due to higher than average wind speeds of 7.8 m/s, compared to 5.3 m/s at the same time last year.
Half the rent which the project pays to North Uist Estate is distributed to the Claddach Illeray township with a calculation based on performance.
Chair Catherine MacLeod added: “The project continues to utilise the skills of local contractors where possible, and alongside the rent, investor member return and indirect benefits, is already adding to the local economy. Although the creation of a community fund is still a way off, mainly due to a requirement to first pay down the main bank loan, I am delighted that the community and investors are now seeing some benefit from the project. It has certainly been a struggle getting to this point, but we can be confident that the project is now in a good place.”
Last month’s heatwave saw temperatures reach 40c down south, whilst here in Uist we barely made 11 degrees. Am Pàipear asked STV ’s weather reporter for his views on what climate change will mean for our weather.
In my early career working in meteorology, we talked about ‘global warming’ but over the years the narrative has changed to ‘climate change’ to take in more of the complexity of a warming climate.
Climate change is such a big talking point now because so many areas of the world are experiencing wild and volatile extremes.
Yes, I get the argument that extremes have always been around – of course they have, but it’s the regularity of them and how widespread they’ve become in recent years. All-time records are falling all over the world at either end of the extreme spectrum.
We can’t get away from the images of massive shelves of ice breaking off Antarctica, fires raging around the world, floods ravaging South Sudan, while next door in Ethiopia, mass migrations are taking place due to droughts. And of course, the extreme heat sweeping Europe.
But wait… What about the record-breaking snow we experienced in Central Scotland in 2018 from the Beast from the East? The extreme cold we had in 2010, or the record-breaking cold they’ve experienced in recent winters in the United Sates? And the record cold weather they’re currently experiencing in Australia? Well, this is part of the climate change package of extremes, and that’s why we no longer talk simply about ‘global warming’.
But what about you in the Western Isles?
Often this year, when I’ve been talking about the warm and dry weather, I can almost sense the excitement from viewers, especially the young ones who are currently enjoying their school holidays. However, I can also feel the resentment as I sweep my hand across the Western Isles with the announcement of more trailing weather fronts and showery rain.
I say resentment, but I’m sure there’s a good few of you who don’t really fancy partaking in the extreme heat. But still, it would be good to lose the fronts for a while.
There’s been a trend for the Azores high pressure cell to ridge further north more often and this is what brings the more prolonged drier spells along with warmer weather. Although for Uist, it still predominantly means a westerly airflow, which means being on the edge of the good weather, along with our friends in Shetland.
But what are our climate change markers here? Well unfortunately for my research, I only have three weather stations to look at for the Western Isles. There’s Stornoway, Quidnish in Harris and South Uist Range.
The weather station in Stornoway is the main one I use for climate trends, as it’s one of the longest serving in Scotland and is still recording.
What really stands out from the records is that the biggest climate change marker for the Western Isles is during the winter and spring months. For example, Stornoway has recorded its warmest November night, December night, February night and April night on record, all within the last 20 years. When it comes to warmest days, Stornoway recorded its warmest April day, its warmest July day and mildest November day, all in 2003.
An average winter afternoon in the 70s would have been around 7C in North Uist and Benbecula, but now that’s near 8C. This doesn’t sound a lot, but that change in average masks the number of days above 10C, which are now a lot more frequent.
Our summer average afternoon high has increased from 16C to 17C in the same period and means days with 20C plus are now more common.
The increase in winter and spring temperatures will be seen as a benefit to farmers as this means fewer damaging frosts. In the 60s and 70s, we would normally have recorded about 30 days with air frosts each year in inland parts of North Uist and eastern South Uist, but now that’s around 15-20 days.
I’ve talked a lot about temperature, but let’s look at rainfall. In the 60s and 70s we would get around 1100mm of rain per year but that is now 1300mm. That’s quite a big jump when you think how that equates to an extra two months worth of rainfall compared to 50 years ago.
Uist is no stranger to wind and winter storms, but how is that changing? Well, there was a big rise in the number of severe storms sweeping through the UK from around four per winter in the 1960s to around 14 in the 90s. But it was even stormier in the past – the 1920s for example, had 16 per winter. So it’s been up and down throughout the decades with no clear pattern of change.
And actually, if we look at Stornoway since the stormy period of the 90s, there’s been a very slight decline in the number of days with gales reported.
So it’s likely that changes in our storms are more likely to be driven by natural fluctuations in the Atlantic, with no real evidence to blame man-made factors.
The one main change we’ll see from storms is that coastal flooding could become more of an issue due to rising sea levels, with the fastest change seen over the last 30 years. This could create more issues for our causeways during stormy periods in the future.
So, whilst the climate changes around the world, we’re certainly not immune in the Western Isles. But what does seem evident, is that we’re protected from some of the biggest extremes, especially when it comes to temperature.
What does that mean for the future of our islands? Perhaps increased tourism due to our more comfortable summers, longer growing seasons for farmers and gardeners, an increase in wildfires, changes in wildlife behaviour, increased midge numbers due to warmer winters and increased rainfall, a higher risk of floods and perhaps an increase in causeway closures and damage.
As I always say with climate change, it’s a mixed future of increases and decreases and spikes in rainfall, temperatures, and snowfall. While we can plan and prepare for general trends, being equally prepared for the volatility is almost impossible.
The Comhairle sets out its plan for climate action
The effects of climate change are already being felt across the world. Scotland is likely to experience warmer wetter winters, more intense rainfall, and hotter drier summers, with rising sea levels, increased flooding, and coastal erosion of particular concern to the islands.
Area-wide emissions for the islands are estimated to be 234 kt CO2 (kiloton carbon dioxide), and while this total figure is low compared to other local authority areas in Scotland, at 8.7kt CO2 per capita, it represents one of the highest per person emissions in Scotland.
The Climate Change Act 2019 committed Scotland to Net Zero by 2045, meaning that greenhouse gas emissions produced must be balanced out by the removal of emissions from the atmosphere.
Public bodies now have a legal requirement to set target dates for zero direct emissions and indirect emission reductions, report on how spending and resource will contribute to these targets, and report on their contribution to Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme.
With this pressing target in mind, the Comhairle has published its new draft Climate Change Strategy, which is now open for public consultation and available to view online.
Comhairle Leader, Cllr Paul Steele, said: “The Draft Climate Change Strategy has been developed to provide strategic direction on climate change and ensure statutory obligations on mitigation and adaptation are met. The strategy has three priority areas aligning to national priorities on climate change: a Carbon Neutral Comhairle, Net Zero Islands and Climate Resilient Islands. An action plan with performance indicators has been developed and will be used to track progress against key outcomes.
“Comments received will be reviewed and the draft Climate Change Strategy will be amended as appropriate. The final draft of the Climate Change Strategy will be considered by the Policy and Resources Committee of the Comhairle which will be held week beginning 19th September.”
The Strategy and the consultation are available at https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/OH4AZS/ .
Responses by individuals and organisations are invited by Saturday 13th of August 2022 at 5pm.
OH Wildlife Festival
The Outer Hebrides Wildlife Festival is organised by the RSPB and runs islands-wide from Saturday 25 June to Saturday 2 July, with many events happening here in Uist and Barra.
Jamie Boyle, RSPB Outer Hebrides Site Manager, explained: “The Outer Hebrides has fantastic wildlife and beautiful places where islanders have lived and worked alongside nature for generations. It is thanks to this unique relationship that the islands have so many different species and that is something that should be highlighted and celebrated. Through the Wildlife Festival, participants can get closer to nature and learn more about what is on their doorstep, while also enjoying the outdoor activities planned.”
The RSPB Outer Hebrides Team have several events planned for the week of the festival: MONDAY 27 JUNE – 1.30PM – an opportunity to sample the fruits of the land at North Uist Distillery’s Downpour tasting event at Nunton Steadings. The Corncrake Calling: Land of Corncrakes exhibition will be at the Steadings for the duration of the festival.MONDAY 27 JUNE 8PM – A guided walk from Nunton Steadings to Aird, led by Alasdair
MacEachen. The walk will include local history and stories, and by starting at 8pm, there is every chance that a corncrake will be heard before the end of the two-hour session.
MONDAY 27 JUNE FROM 10AM – Wild Things Uist are hosting a Wee Wildlings Beach party for pre-schoolers and their families at Balranald, North Uist
TUESDAY 28 JUNE FROM 10AM – Balranald Walk from the RSPB visitor centre to the machair, along the shoreline and to the loch, where a variety of wading birds such as lapwing and corncrake can be found.
WEDNESDAY 29 JUNE TO SATURDAY 02 JULY – Wild Things Uist will also be running a Wildlife Discovery Trail at Cladach Kirkibost, which will feature some of the species the festival aims to highlight, such as artic terns, sundew, lapwings, otter, golden eagle, great yellow bumblebee and of course, the corncrake.
WEDNESDAY 29 JUNE FROM 10AM – Resident otter expert Martyn Jamieson will lead an Otter walk from Langass Lodge.
WEDNESDAY 29 JUNE, FROM 7.30PM- Dr. Rupert Marshall will be giving a talk on how and why birds sing. Explaining how birds are recorded in the field, how they make such amazing sounds, and what they do when they hear another song. This event will be hosted by Ceòlas and will take place in Cnoc Soilleir.
THURSDAY 30 JUNE FROM 10AM – A guided walk from RSPB Loch Druidibeg through the Land of Eagles.
THURSDAY 30 JUNE 7-9PM – An exclusive viewing of a pair of white-tailed eagles successfully raising a chick on the reserve.
THURSDAY 30 JUNE 8.30AM – Uist Sea Tours Mingulay Puffins tour departs from Eriskay and offers the opportunity to see puffins, kittiwakes, and razorbills, with a good chance of seeing whales and dolphins around the waters of the island.
THURSDAY 30 JUNE FROM 1PM FROM BERNERAY – Viv Halcrow, a local marine ecologist, will lead a seashore safari, looking at rock pools and finding out more about anemones and other creatures that live around our shorelines.
Grimsay Community Association are holding a number of events as part of the festival, two guided walks, on moorland wildflowers and on birds of prey walk, and also have a few craft activities based on the SHOAL exhibition, which is on the history of the fisherman’s ganseys. Grimsay Community Association will also be one of the venues for the RSPB Film Night, which offers a chance to see two films that explore the islanders’ connection to land, culture, and wildlife.
The Festival organisers advise that some events will require booking and ask that those interested in taking part visit the website for up to date programme listings or contact Shona MacLellan, RSPB Community Engagement Officer by email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Orchids are emerging and beginning to flower, spring is turning into summer and the number and variety of insect species is increasing.
Most early butterflies will have been Green-veined Whites (the Small White seems to be extremely rare and Large Whites will arrive later in the summer). There will have been a few sightings of Small Tortoiseshell as they emerge from their overwintering hibernation and a few early migrant Red Admirals and the less common Peacock butterflies will have been seen.
Butterflies that start to appear from now on include the large and attractive Dark Green Fritillary and the Common Blue. The form of Common Blue that occurs in the Isles and the north west of Scotland is a stunner. It is larger and bluer than those in the rest of Britain. Visitors to the islands often think it’s a completely different species. If you are very lucky, you my even find much rarer butterflies like the Speckled Wood or the Orange tip.
It’s not just the rare species we need to look out for. Taking note of common species is important when making accurate comparisons with past numbers and when spotting trends in growth or decline.
Some species are now spoken of as being like the ‘canary in a coalmine’ that predicts disaster. One such is the Great-Yellow Bumblebee that benefits from the lower levels of herbicide and pesticide use in the Hebrides. It is still found in reasonable numbers here but has disappeared from much of the rest of Britain. There is some concern that this cool climate bee will not enjoy the increase in rain and heat of the climate emergency.
Collecting and sending in details of what you see of easily identified common species is of great value and it is one way in which we can all do something about the huge declines in insect life. I know we all wish there were a few less when the midge and the horsefly arrive, but insects play a vital part in this environment we all share.
Leaflets giving more information on Butterflies, Moths and Bumblebees are available from various outlets and can be downloaded from the OHBR (Outer Hebrides Biological Recording) website, where you can also submit your sightings.
Photo copyright: Bill Neill
Outer Hebrides Biological Recording (www.ohbr.org.uk) Curracag
Outer Hebrides Natural History Society (www.curracag.org.uk)
Climate change is causing a sea change that represents a direct threat to the environment of the Outer Hebrides
Climate change now dominates discussion at almost every level, with greater awareness of the challenges facing the world, in this country, since it hosted COP26.
Long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns could be natural, but since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, which produces heat-trapping gas, pushing up temperatures all over the Earth.
Climate change will be a focus of coverage in Am Pàipear during 2022. Speaking with local experts, articles will examine the impacts of climate change in different contexts, including crofting, business, fishing and the unique environment of the Outer Hebrides.
Looking at the challenges climate change will create for the environment, this month Am Pàipear discusses the changes already evident and possible mitigations with NatureScot operations manager Johanne Ferguson.
“Sea level rise is often associated with climate change and we are already seeing the impact of erosion here,” explained Johanne.
“We have got a relative sea level rise of about 6mm a year. It is partly because the islands are tilting into the sea at a rate of about 2mm a year, which is why we call it relative sea level rise, and as the sea rises it eats into the sand dunes, causing a lot of erosion, so the key is to make the dunes as healthy as possible.”
Sand dunes are the critical element of defence against rising seas levels and the climate emergency continued Johanne.
“Sand dunes protect us as so we are very much relying on a stable sand dune edge. If that is breached, we are vulnerable to flooding and erosion. So it is in our own interest to make sure we are as robust as possible.
“In terms of making the dunes more resilient to climate change, some crofters have been fencing off areas to protect them from grazing, which allows the marram to grow through and strengthens the dunes. It is important no peat or soil is dumped on the dunes, as these actually react with the dunes and release more carbon and stop the marram from growing.”
Johanne explained that in addition to being a real threat towards the human population on the islands, climate change, represented in rising sea temperatures, is hitting seabird species hard.
“Puffins, kittiwakes and terns all feed on sand eels which have become less and less available because of the temperature change and so these birds have had to change food sources to pipefish. Chicks cannot eat these, resulting in them starving and some poor breeding seasons.
“But almost all bird species are being affected through climate change, as with the climate warming up, we are getting unpredictable weather patterns and extreme events. Unfortunately, often when birds have nested and laid their eggs, storms and floods are washing them away and destroying them. It all adds up to reducing the breeding success over time. If we lose our breeding birds, which most of our tourism relies on, there is a great economic impact.”
Professor Stewart Angus, coastal ecologist with NatureScot, is working on a resilience strategy to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change and make a plan for the habitats and people here to be more resilient in the future.
“It is not just crofting and loss of land due to erosion, it is our infrastructure, transportation, roads and buildings, everything is affected,” continued Johanne.
“Work is underway in some areas to utilise excess silage bales to plug holes in the dunes and that can work really well as long as the wrapping is removed first and they are not just dumped, which can be harmful to wildlife. Baleshare residents have been moving shingle around after bad storms, from their land and tracks back to the beach where it belongs, and also moving it to allow for car parking for tourists to ensure that areas are not eroded away. But there are loads of different things, big and small, that we as a community can do to become more resilient to climate change in the future.
“We cannot stop climate change, all we can do is try to lessen the impact of climate change. Even if we completely stop emitting carbon, we would still see the levels rising for years to come. So the predictions are at the moment, if we significantly reduced the amount of carbon we omit, sea levels would rise 30cm before the end of the century. If we carry on how we are going, it’s looking like a rise of a meter come the end of the century.”