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Wind farms: the landscape -v- bird debate

Countryside commentator John Sheard, who dreads the arrival of 400 feet high wind turbines five miles from his home, wonders if bird kill could be an unlikely saviour.

Britain’s biggest conservation charity, the Royal Society fir the Protection of Birds, announced Wednesday (February 20) that is was about to start issuing maps of important bird-flight routes in the North of England to help planners decide the future sites of wind farms.

The first map will cover Cumbria with others on Morecambe Bay and the Lancashire coast to follow. So far, there is no mention of a Yorkshire Dales map and this is significant: the RSPB has a long history of paying special attention to costal areas because they are regular breeding and feeding places for literally millions of water fowl and even inland species like the bird on our Daelnet logo, the curlew.

Now I am along-time supporter of the RSPB – I first started writing about their efforts in 1960 when their research revealed that organo-phosphate insecticides were killing off our birds of prey. But there is a parting of the ways when it comes to wind farms.

You see, the RSPB is a keen supporter of these awful installations … so long as they are not sited along routes regularly used by migrating birds or local species going to and from their feeding grounds. And that strikes me as wanting your cake and eating it.

I have just been re-reading plans for a plantation of 400-feet-high wind turbines on the Yorkshire Dales/Lancashire border less than five miles from my home on Brightember Hill near West Marten where, roughly, the Trough of Bowland meets the Ribble Valley, two particularly beautiful areas although just outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

And that is why they are there: the German company that wishes to build these monsters – and clean up on massive Government subsidies for the work – has more sense that to propose a site within the park. But that is quite frankly nonsense when it comes to landscape conservation.

At 400 feet – five or six times higher than the tallest tree – they will be clearly visible for at least 20 miles. They will be gigantic sore thumbs in this wonderful rolling, wooded terrain from the summit of Pen-y-ghent north of Settle, the top of famous Pendle Hill, and all along the Aire Valley from Malham Tarn to Keighley. In other words, at the very heart of some of the finest scenery in the British Isles. They will make the only other wind turbines in the area, at Chelker Reservoir near Skipton, look like midgets.

It will be easy, no doubt, for the wind farm lobby to accuse me of being a Nimby in this –a Not in my backyard protestor – but I have been against these uneconomic monsters for twenty years, when I was researching stories about a rash of the things spreading across the Pennines from the Bronte parsonage near Keighley to Todmorden on the Lancashire border.

The Tories were in power then but it did not stop Todmorden-born Sir Bernard Ingham, Maggie Thatcher’s peppery Press Secretary, telling me in an interview: “Whoever gives the go ahead for the large-scale erection of wind farms will be responsible for the greatest environmental disaster of the 20th Century.”

In my opinion, that goes for the 21st Century too. And it is quite unnecessary now that the Government has reluctantly agreed to the building of a new range of atomic power stations (a decision they have taken ten years too late!).

We could get these monsters in the Dales because we are ordered to have them by the European Union. Its bureaucrats never listen to what people say because they consider us a mere nuisance. But they do pay attention to the environmentalists. With a bit of luck, the RSPB will say that these plans would cause too much bird kill – and we Dalesfolk could be saved!


22 February 2008