One in six of the UK’s officially-designated beauty spots could soon be blighted by wind farms, an investigation has found.
Out of 89 sites given special protection due to the quality of their landscape, planning permission for turbines has been approved or sought at 14.
Affected areas range from Cornwall and the Isle of Wight to the Lake District, the Outer Hebrides and the Shetland Islands. Campaigners claimed that the projects would spoil much-loved views and called for clearer rules on where wind farms can and cannot be built.
In England, out of 35 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), four are the subject of a planning application for turbines. In one case the development would be within the AONB boundaries, in the other three it would be just outside but close enough to have a dramatic impact on the view enjoyed by visitors.
Among Scotland’s 40 designated National Scenic Areas (NSAs), six have already had turbines approved, one inside its boundaries and five just outside. One more is the subject of a planning application for a development inside its boundaries.
Out of nine AONBs in Northern Ireland, three are the subject of planning applications to build turbines within their boundaries.
Environmentalists called for a change in the planning system, and said the current arrangement had led to a “free-for-all” among wind farm developers.
In Cornwall, plans to build 20 turbines, each 415ft in height – taller than Big Ben or St Paul’s Cathedral – on land next to Bodmin Moor have been approved by the local council, despite opposition from Friends of the Earth, the RSPB and Natural England.
The wind farm, which will cover 1.5 square miles, will be next to an AONB and a Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as being within an Area of Great Scientific Value, an Area of Great Historic Value and a Cornwall Nature Conservation Site.
Experts have said the turbines will be visible from much of Bodmin Moor and will have a huge impact on an “iconic area of landscape” dominated by Brown Willy and Rough Tor, the two highest points in the county.
The area is also home to a starling roost of more than one million birds and to thousands of golden plover, a protected species. Conservationists estimate that 16,000 starlings and dozens of golden plover would be killed every year by the turbines.
Arthur Boyt, the chairman of the Stop Turbines in North Cornwall (STINC) campaign group, said: “This area of Cornwall is famous for the scenery and the views. It is a singularly wild and beautiful area of countryside.
“The wind farm would dominate the view of Brown Willy and Rough Tor. It would violate what is at the moment a very tranquil, distinct and beautiful landscape, and reduce it to insignificance behind a barrage of rotating turbines.”
Mark Jones, a planning and local government adviser for Natural England added: “The proposal would significantly detract from the semi-natural and remote character of Bodmin Moor. The visual impacts on the character of this nationally valued landscape cannot be adequately mitigated.”
Natural England, the quango responsible for conserving England’s landscape and wildlife, also opposes plans to build three 331ft turbines at a former opencast mine on the borders of Cannock Chase AONB in Staffordshire; a wind farm on a cliff top in Ventnor, Isle of Wight; and nine 335ft turbines on Barrier Hill, Cumbria.
Campaigners claim that the siting of the Barrier Hill wind farm less than a mile from the edge of the Lake District national park would “pollute” views of Blencathra, which climbs 2,848 feet (868 metres) above the northern fells.
Five more proposed wind farms, not sited near AONBs, are also being opposed by Natural England due to their likely impact on the landscape and wildlife.
The revelations come after Gordon Brown announced plans for a £10 billion programme to build a ring of wind farms around Britain’s coast. Earlier this year Ed Miliband, the climate change minister, announced plans to increase the number of onshore turbines by “many thousands” and said it should be “socially unacceptable” to be against them. He also admitted that AONBs and national parks could be the sites of new energy infrastructure including wind farms.
Environmentalists have warned that the spread of onshore wind farms threatens some of Britain’s best-loved countryside.
Earlier this year the High Court gave permission for a wind farm to be built on the outskirts of the Peak District National Park. Four 335ft (102m) turbines – almost twice the height of Nelson’s Column – will tower over one of the most spectacular views of the dales on the boundaries of the national park and next to the Carsington Water beauty spot between Matlock and Ashbourne.
Dustin Benton, a senior policy officer for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, called for clearer rules on where wind farms can and cannot be built.
“There is no strategic planning process for wind farms in sensitive areas, so it’s a bit of a free for all,” he said. “The general view held by developers is to have a go – to put in an application and see what happens. This has got to be changed.
“The best way of reconciling the need for renewable energy and the protection of the countryside is to have a planning system which states clearly where wind farms can or can’t be built.”
But Charles Anglin of the British Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, said decisions should be made on a “case by case” basis.
He said: “The biggest threat to the UK’s and the world’s habitats and wildlife is catastrophic climate change. To do anything about that we have to change the way we use and produce energy and that does mean expanding the amount of renewable energy we use.
“But every single application has to have its own environmental impact assessment that has to look at the impact on local landscape and habitats, and that forms part of the planning application that then needs to be approved by the local authority.
“The local impact is vitally important but it’s part of the wider impact. We would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we rejected wind out of hand because of purely local considerations.”
Mr Miliband has said wind power should be generating 26GW of energy by 2020, enough to power more than 15 million homes. That would mean a total of 10,000 new turbines – 6,000 at sea and 4,000 onshore. There are currently about 2,500 onshore wind turbines in Britain.
AONBs in England with wind farms proposed
Ventnor, Isle of Wight, (within AONB; plans submitted)
Davidstow Community Windfarm, Bodmin Moor (on edge; plans submitted)
Bleak House, Cannock Chase, Staffs (on edge; plans submitted)
Carsington, Peak District (on edge; plans approved)
Wind farms at AONBs in Northern Ireland
Eglish, Brockaboy, Koram Hill, Beltonanean, in Sperrins (within AONB; plans submitted)
Slieve Croob, in Mourne (within AONB; plans submitted)
Dunbeg, in Binevenagh (within AONB; plans submitted)
Wind farms at NSAs in Scotland:
Monan South Lewis, Harris and North Ulst (within NSA; plans approved)
Pairc, South Lewis, Harris and North Ulst (within NSA; plans submitted)
Foula Skiordar in Foula, Shetlands (within NSA; plans submitted)
Foula South Ness in Foula, Shetlands (within NSA; plans submitted)
Melness, Kyle of Tongue (on edge; plans approved)
Burra Dale, S W Shetland (on edge; plans approved)
Beinn Tharsuinn, Dornoch Firth, (on edge; plans approved)
Muaitheabhal, South Lewis, Harris and North Ulst (on edge; plans approved)
Hagdale, Shetland, Herma Ness (on edge; plans approved)
Griffin, River Tay (on edge; plans approved)
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