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Nothing short of desecration

We are being led to believe by Viking Energy that the hills of Shetland are eroding badly, with a consequent loss of wildlife habitat, and that the Viking wind farm will reverse this process.

I know that there are areas worse affected by erosion, but this picture shows almost pristine blanket bog and a loch with vegetation right around its shores. This type of active bog is rated as land of the highest ecological value in the EU Habitats Directive and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The lochs and lochans here support both breeding and visiting raingeese. Maa Water and its neighbouring lochs are home to the brown trout which Bobby Sandison has lately written about; the burns that are fed from these lochs are their breeding ground; there is a wealth of other fauna, flora and cultural history in the area

According to Windylights 2, thirteen 145 metre high turbines are to surround these lochs, with a further sixteen “gracing” the summits of the two hills in the background, the highest in the west mainland. Up to 30 will be in the water catchment area of the Burn of Lunklet, which is an SSSI supporting rare plants and is a very popular attraction for residents and visitors. The “footprint” of these turbines must therefore extend to the waters of East Burrafirth.

Several turbines are to be less than two kilometres from housing in Aith and East Burrafirth. David Thomson has been quoted as saying VE can “play around” with the turbines to lessen their aural impact. This kind of language is hardly re-assuring. (One year ago, in Windylights 1,there was “…no noise unless you are actually inside a turbine”). The aural and visual impact on anglers and others who may wish to exercise their right of access here is almost unimaginable.

On the right side of the picture, above the loch and between two turbine sites, a quarry is proposed. Being one of nine, up to about 100,000 cubic metres of rock may be extracted from this. VE’s scoping report regards the making of such quarries as an unlikely loss of bird habitat, but rather the possible creation of new bird habitat!!

It will be interesting to see in the environmental statement how the peat and vegetation that is removed from the quarry will be dealt with, how the drainage will be arranged, and pollution mitigated. A network of roads of unspecified design and underground cables will all but surround the area, and will continue to the summit of Scallafield (922 ft), and beyond. At this stage we do not even know if there will be a (50m x 50m fenced) substation hereabouts, or how cables will be routed to the proposed converter station.

Interestingly, not a single sheep is in view in the photograph – and it should be realised that since the ESA scheme was introduced several scattalds have benefited from heather management and stock reduction, so that eroded areas are already being re-clad with vegetation. The new agricultural grants will allow this process to continue.

I cannot imagine that Viking Energy’s proposals will in any way enhance this beautiful part of Shetland. Tearing up or crushing this peatland on such a scale is nothing short of desecration, and I challenge supporters of the project to question the veracity of what I have written.

Fortunately and inspiringly, the crofters, and one land owner, in the area have voted to say “no” to the wind farm here. It is to be hoped that others, both here and elsewhere, will put care for their environment and communities above financial reward.

Phil Smith

The Shetland News

30 April 2008