Connect fined £10,500 for threat to wirebirds

A “reckless failure” to protect two wirebirds has landed Connect St Helena with a fine of £10,500.

St Helena Magistrates’ Court heard that it let a contractor start work on its solar farm before full planning consent had been given – with measures to protect the endangered birds.

Conservationists in the UK praised the island’s planning and legal systems for acting swiftly to protect “one of the world’s rarest shorebirds”.

A court report said Connect St Helena halted the work as soon as it was alerted by officials. It pleaded guilty to allowing the unnamed independent local contractor to start work on the site before full development permission had been granted.

The report said: “The court found that Connect had been reckless in their failure to put in place and to enforce a system for protecting at least two wirebirds which had been seen at the development site.

“The court further concluded that there had been a risk of significant harm, due to the potentially long lasting effect on such wirebirds, being one of the rarest and therefore most endangered species of birds in the world.”

It said the company had otherwise complied effectively with planning regulations.

“The incident was however considered to be a very serious offence and the court accordingly fined Connect the sum of £10,500 with costs of £15.”

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has funded wirebird conservation on St Helena, said: “The RSPB applauds the work of the planning and legal authorities in this matter.

“The wirebird is one of the world’s rarest shorebirds, with only about 430 adults remaining.

“Planning rules need to be followed if St Helena is to protect its remarkable environment and realise the benefits of eco-tourism.”

The £10,000 fine is small when seen against the million pounds Connect was given approval to invest in its first solar farm in 2014.

Panels on the farm at Half Tree Hollow capture the sun’s rays to generate electricity.

Along with wind turbines on Deadwood Plain, they help the island generate more than 30% of its electricity from renewable sources – more than double the rate in the UK.

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