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Scottish Highlands Spaceport Plans Protested By Extinction Rebellion

Artist impression of Sutherland Spaceport. Image courtesy of Perfect Circle PV via uk.gov.

Extinction Rebellion, the British environmental pressure group that stages mass protests against climate change, has condemned plans to build the UK’s first vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland, located in the Scottish Highlands.

The proposed satellite launch site will be located nearby a protected stretch of peatland at Melness, near Tongue, in the Sutherland area. Extinction Rebellion, with the support of some local residents, are registering their protests as comments on the launch site’s planning application to the local authorities, and are encouraging others around the world who might also be concerned about the potential environmental damage to the area to also comment on the application.

Kate Willis, a representative of Extinction Rebellion in the Highlands, claims that the proposed launch site threatens the ecosystem and delicate biodiversity of the nearby peatlands known as Flow Country. Willis has called the planned launch site “reckless and potentially extremely damaging,” and said that it will “put the fragile peatland ecosystem at huge risk, be that through fuel leaks, pollution or explosions,” according to The Scotsman newspaper.

Flow Country is believed to be the largest bogland in the world, and covers a 2,415 square kilometre area that can store 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Willis also accused the Highland authorities of being “contradictory” in their plans to build the Sutherland spaceport given that in 2019 the council declared a climate emergency and that they are also supporting a proposal to have the Flow Country declared a UN World Heritage site.

“Investment must focus on the development of a green low carbon economy and re-wilding, particularly in sensitive areas such as the Flow Country,” Willis told The Scotsman.

The Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) development agency, who back the Sutherland spaceport planning application, are defending the proposed launch site by citing the economic benefits it will bring to Scotland and the immediate area, claiming that it will create at least 250 jobs across Scotland, with 44 of these going to local residents.

HIE also deny Extinction Rebellion claims that the satellite launch site will threaten the nearby Flow Country ecosystem.

“Over the past two years, leading environmental consultants have assessed the impact that launch operations could have on the land and wildlife around the launch site,” said David Oxley, HIE’s director of business growth. “They have advised us on how best to ensure protection, including measures to restore significant areas of peatland that have been damaged by past activity.”

Extinction Rebellion’s condemnation of the proposed Sutherland spaceport follows the pressure group’s public protests in November 2019 against the decision by Cornwall Council to provide £12.1 million (US$15.7 million) funding for Spaceport Cornwall. Virgin Orbit is committed to using Spaceport Cornwall for its customized Boeing 747 to loft the LaunchOne rocket in to orbit.

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