It was a bitter battle between two wealthy protagonists, fought on that most contemporary of battlegrounds – a proposed wind farm site on a remote Highland hillside.
This week, the Scottish government came down in favour of Sir Jack Hayward, 87, the former owner of Wolverhampton Wanderers football club, who had campaigned to have 33 turbines on his estate at Dunmaglass, 20 miles southwest of Inverness.
The decision has appalled supporters of Sigrid Rausing, 48, the Swedish-born heiress to the multibillion-pound Tetra Pak empire. She is a passionate champion of Scotland’s wild places and owns the Coignafearn estate, which borders Dunmaglass.
Devastated opponents of the 99MW scheme developed by RES, the renewable energy company, claim it will despoil the natural wilderness of the Monadhliath. These haunting “grey hills” of Inverness-shire stretch from Loch Ness in the north to Dalwhinnie in the south and Spean Bridge in the west, feeding the Findhorn and the Spey.
The decision highlights the huge tension between Alex Salmond, the First Minister, who staunchly supports renewable energy, and those who believe that wind farms should not be allowed to encroach on to true Highland wilderness.
Ms Rausing has led the fight against the proposal for almost a decade, supported by high-profile figures including David Bellamy, the broadcaster and botanist, Roy Dennis, the ornithologist, and Cameron McNeish, the author and mountaineer.
Ms Rausing said: “The Monadhliath mountain range should be a conservation area. Unlike much of the Highlands the hills are mineral-rich, which makes the biodiversity potential high. Illegal persecution of raptors still goes on, not least so that industrial developments will not be impeded by the presence of protected species.
“This decision sacrificed nature conservation to the energy extraction industry to help the government meet its carbon emission targets. That is not the right sacrifice to make.”;
Sandy Dey, a senior employee on Ms Rausing’s estate, described the decision as a disaster and said it was horrible and farcical.
In the past, Ms Rausing, who has developed new habitats for ospreys, eagles, plovers and peregrine falcons and who encourages ramblers and birdwatchers on her estate, has said she fears that obsolete wind farms will leave “immense scars that will not heal for hundreds of years” in the landscape.
After the decision was announced, Mr McNeish wrote on his website: “The development is sickening in its scale and insensitivity. The proposals are arrogant, greedy and insensitive – an affront to both man and nature.”;
The plan split the Highland community, with 1,556 objections against 912 supporters. The government and RES have stressed that the Dunmaglass site will provide power for the equivalent of 46,000 homes each year for 25 years, and say that the local community will benefit significantly, with both direct financial support (up to £200,000 a year for 25 years to be shared between three community councils) and economic spin-offs. RES’s environmental impact assessment states that the area is appropriate for wind farm development.
Highland Council supported the application, which was passed to the government and approved on Tuesday. Gordon MacDougall, chief operating officer (UK and Ireland) for RES, said that there was always a “very vocal minority” that would object to wind farms.
“What you tend to find is that once the wind farm is built and operational, it’s not nearly as bad as the opponents feared,” he added.
Critics of the plan have continued to highlight fears of bird strikes. Mr McNeish said that the environmental impact assessment “casually proclaims that up to 11 golden eagles could die” and that other birds such as red kites, ospreys and buzzards could die too.
Mr MacDougall said bird strikes were always a risk, but that there were no recorded cases of golden eagle deaths at wind farm sites in Scotland. He added: “We have worked with the RSPB and all the key people and will employ a full-time ecologist at the site.”;
Sir Jack was not available for comment. In the past he has stressed that the wind farm will be a relatively short-term intrusion into the landscape.
“Sigrid should realise those pylons are only going to be there for 25 years, then they have to be removed and the place returned to pristine condition – the company’s under a bond to do so,” he said. “Believe me, 25 years go very quickly.”
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