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Fears national park could be encircled by wind farms

Opposition is gathering to the prospect of three wind farms being given the go-ahead around the north western edge of Scotland’s largest national park.

Mountaineering groups and campaigners fear the sense of wildness enjoyed by visitors to the Cairngorms National Park will be destroyed by the sight of more than 70 proposed turbines across three locations.

As they consider the go-ahead for the schemes, Scottish ministers have been urged to think again about the current assumption in favour of large scale wind farms anywhere in the mountain landscape.

Ministers are shortly expected to announce their decision on whether the Allt Duine development of 31 turbines should go-ahead, with the park authority and mountaineers both claiming that the 125 metre high turbines will blight the landscape.

Planning inquiries are ongoing as to whether a further farm at Glenkirk and another at Tom na Clash, on the Cawdor Estate in Nairnshire, are given approval on the fringes of the park.

If permission is granted for all three developments, a total of 74 turbines could be built within a 40 mile stretch of land.

Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) said it was concerned at the accumulative effect on the landscape should all three wind farms go ahead.

CNPA landscape officer, Frances Thin said: “We have objected to wind farm proposals at Allt Duine and Glenkirk as, although not within the park, they would impact on the landscape and people’s enjoyment of the park.

“These proposed wind farms, along with another at Tom nan Clach, concern us.

“If allowed to go ahead, these wind farms would contribute to the gradual encircling of the north-western area of the park – with turbines visible from iconic high points and Munros, from the Monadhliaths in the west to Ben Macdui, Cairngorm and the plateau in the east. Many people come to the Cairngorms for the landscape, the challenge and to experience a sense of wildness and their enjoyment should be protected.”

The three developments will make a significant contribution to the Scottish Government target for renewable sources to generate the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s electricity by 2020.

According to industry group Renewables UK, permission has been granted to build 84 wind farms in Scotland since 1999. Further data from the group suggests that, in 2011 alone, a further 46 wind farms were put into the planning system, with 354 more turbines proposed.

Concerns have been raised that, as the number of proposed wind farms accelerates, the number of suitable sites will start to run out.

Steven Turnbull, policy officer for the John Muir Trust, which campaigns for protection of wild land in Scotland, said: “Operators are finding it more difficult to find the right type of site.”

Mr Turnbull added that a “coherent and consistent” policy was required at Government level, with local authorities largely creating their own individual policies to guide planning decisions on wind farms.

The wind farm at Allt Duine, proposed by RWE npower renewables, will be determined by Scottish ministers due to its size. It is expected to have a capacity of 93 MW, enough to supply 52,001 homes.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “All representations received regarding Electricity Act applications to ministers will be carefully considered before any decisions are made.”

David Gibson, chief officer of The Mountaineering Council of Scotland said that, while being in favour of renewable energy, mountains must be protected from development.

Mr Gibson said: “If approved, Allt Duine, together with other proposed wind farm developments in the Monadhliath will have a major visual impact in an area adjacent to the Cairngorms National Park and be in clear line of sight from many of Scotland’s iconic mountains.”