CONSERVATIONISTS have called for changes to the planning system after a £2 billion offshore project was given a green light despite expert advice warning against the scheme.

RSPB Scotland said that its defeat in a long-running legal battle against the giant Neart na Gaoithe wind farm in the Firth of Forth could set a “dangerous precedent” where Scottish Government Ministers routinely ignore the advice of environmental groups.

The charity learned on Tuesday that the UK Supreme Court had refused permission to grant an appeal against the decision of Scotland’s top civil court that the development could go ahead. The wildlife campaigners say that the project threatens thousands of puffins, gannets and kittiwakes.

Their concerns over the planning system have been echoed by the National Trust for Scotland. It said a majority of people feel they have no influence on local decisions.

RSPB Scotland launched its latest round of legal action after an initial victory in the courts blocking the plan was overturned when Scottish Government Ministers appealed.

The Government’s decision to back the scheme flew in the face of advice from Scottish Natural Heritage, which warned that the scheme would “adversely affect” a number of wild bird populations.

Saying that the latest verdict was “extremely disappointing”, Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland, outlined her fears for the impact on future developments. She said: “Perhaps most worryingly, it could also set an extremely dangerous precedent for decision-making on future development, whereby Scottish Ministers no longer need to take heed of their own expert nature conservation advisors, nor the concerns of the public or indeed consider the implications of development on areas known to be of international importance to wildlife.”

A spokesman for Scottish Natural Heritage said: "Our role is to advise Marine Scotland.

"We provided advice on Neart na Gaoithe,‎ in 2014. We advised Marine Scotland that the wind farm site as planned could lead to adverse effects on breeding seabirds from sites of international importance for breeding seabirds, namely the Forth Islands and Fowlsheugh Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

"SNH was not involved in the Judicial Review but we have continued to engage with all parties, including the developers and RSPB, to provide advice."

Mainstream Renewable Power, the firm behind Neart na Gaoithe, hopes to press ahead with the 75-turbine project next year. The 75-turbine windfarm will cover around 80 square km offshore from the coast of Fife. It has been estimated that it could power 1.4 million homes.

However, the decision by the Scottish Government to support the scheme follows a number of similar cases where Minsters have found themselves in opposition to conservationists. Most famously, the Government backed Donald Trump’s plan for a golf course at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire despite criticism from the Scottish Wildlife Trust and RSPB Scotland, and others.

Earlier this year the John Muir Trust (JMT) was unsuccessful in its opposition to the Creag Riabhach windfarm in Sutherland, which is to go ahead despite a legal challenge by a local landowner.

Last year JMT lost its own case against the Stronelairg windfarm near Fort Augustus when judges upheld an appeal by the Scottish Government and SSE. Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy welcomed the decision.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Protecting our marine environment it is of paramount importance to the Scottish Government “The wind arm applications underwent a full and thorough public and stakeholder consultation prior to being determined by Scottish Ministers.”