It is a part of Scotland famous for its rugged wild land and mountains, attracting thousands of tourists to its natural beauty.
But now plans for a wind farm in Sutherland have left conservationists worried about the impact the 410ft- high turbines will have on the area which is home to Quinag, Ben Mor Coigach and Suilven.
German company WKN Windkraft Nord AG wants to install 22 turbines on the shore of Loch Shin, near Glencassley Hydro Power station, north-west of the village of Lairg. It says the Sallachy site will pump £6 million into the local economy over the 25-year lifespan of the wind farm.
However, the John Muir Trust charity is objecting to the plan because the site has been identified by Scottish Natural Heritage as one of the country’s main areas of wild land.
The trust believes the turbines will be visible from up to 10% of the Assynt and Coigach National Scenic Area further west, including from Conival and Ben More Assynt, the two Munros in the area.
John Muir Trust chairman John Hutchison said: “This is a worrying proposal. Assynt and Coigach is an area of great beauty and spectacular natural landscape that includes the summits of Quinag, Ben Mor Coigach and Suilven.
“Folk are becoming very concerned about the effect of this type of development on our wild landscape, the unique Scotland that visitors come to see. We can’t afford to lose high-quality areas of wild land such as this, particularly when there are impacts on an established National Scenic Area.”
He said that for some time the trust has been concerned that as less sensitive land is used up, Scotland’s wildest land will come under increased threat.
“The Sallachy proposal is a step closer to this happening,” he said.
Steven Turnbull, policy officer for the trust, added: “The developer in this case has recognised the wildness of the site but has significantly undervalued this quality. If Sallachy is approved it would set an unwelcome precedent for future developments. It would make it even more difficult in the future to challenge wind farms that impact on National Scenic Areas, the highest accolade for Scotland’s natural landscapes.”
The German firm said it recognised that the key concerns raised by people attending an exhibition it had hosted had largely been the landscape and visual impact of the proposed development, as well as the potential effect on tourism in the area.
Its environmental statement says: “The layout design of the turbines was explored through understanding the visibility from key viewpoints.
“This involved lowering the height of the proposed turbines, removing some turbines all together, and relocating others so that the overall visual impacts are reduced.”
A WKN spokesman said they had held discussions with the Lairg, Creich and Ardgay and district community councils regarding benefits to the area. It was now in discussion with the Scottish Communities Foundation about administering a community fund, should the project go ahead.
“We have drawn up proposals but the minimum would be about £230,000 a year, index-linked for the 25 years of operation planned,” said the spokesman.
A little over a year ago surveys had been sent to more than 2000 households within 20 miles of the site and 453 responses were received. Among the findings 220 (49%) respondents said they believed the proposed site was a good location, 25% were unsure and 25% were opposed.