A full-time ornithologist is to be employed to monitor winter bird movements around the wind turbine test site at Hunterston.

Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) will employ the naturalist to ensure there are no negative impacts on the environment surrounding the site.

The sand and mudflats at Hunterston are an important wintering area for a variety of shorebirds, and birdwatchers fear many species may be scared away by the ongoing work.

News of the ornithologist’s appointment is contained on the SSE website, which states that an application has been made to North Ayrshire Council for a relaxation of Condition 19 of the original planning consent, which restricts construction works to being within the months of March to September.

It adds: “Consent has now been granted for work to continue over the winter months. This was achieved following consultation with RSPB, and the agreed adjustments were approved on the understanding that vehicular movements are restricted on site and that SSE commit to employing a full time ornithologist.

“The ornithologist will monitor the project and bird movements during the wintering months to ensure there are no negative impacts to the environment surrounding the test site.” The Hunterston Offshore Wind Turbine Test facility will be the UK’s first onshore test site for offshore wind turbines and will be an extension of SSE’s Glasgow based Centre of Engineering Excellence for Renewable Energy (CEERE).

SSE is working with supply chain partners Siemens and Mitsubishi Power Systems Europe to construct and test their latest turbine technology on two of the berths at the site. The third berth will be operated by Scottish Enterprise which has committed part funding from the National Renewables Infrastructure Fund towards the project. This berth will be leased to a turbine manufacturer which has firm plans to invest in the Scottish off-shore wind supply chain.

SSE states: “As responsible companies, SSE and Mitsubishi are respectful of the potential impact that full construction works may have on wintering birds.

“We are pleased to work within the revised guidelines agreed by RSPB and North Ayrshire Council, and are grateful for their flexibility in allowing work on this important national project to continue.

“The relaxation allows specific works to continue on site and will minimise delays to the original proposed programme.” Concerns about the turbines’ effect on bird life have been expressed on the Largs News Facebook page.

Caroline Le Good Morgan posted: “As a wildlife and nature/landscape photographer, birder and conservationist it breaks my heart. Many birds have been killed by these monstrosities.” In June, a rare needle-tailed swift, a species that hadn’t been seen in Britain for 22 years, was killed when it flew into a wind turbine on the Isle of Harris.