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Protect our mountains plea wins Ross support

Ross-shire tourism traders are amongst those being urged this week to force a top-level moratorium to save wild mountain areas from “industrialisation by huge wind farms”.

The appeal issued by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) says key mountain areas – particularly around the Munros and Corbetts – should be protected because of their enormous significance as visitor attractions.

The latest MCofS broadside has particular resonance in Ross-shire where campaigners have insisted that plans to develop turbines in the shadow of Ben Wyvis “are “a wind farm too far”.

David Gibson, MCofS chief officer, said: “The Scottish Government is billing 2013 as the Year of Natural Scotland, whilst at the same time allowing our wild, open and beautiful mountain landscapes to be industrialised with huge numbers of wind turbines and associated bulldozed tracks.

“This is completely at odds with the promotional stance of VisitScotland, which proudly declares on the travel trade section of its website that ‘your clients can escape into the unspoilt wilderness …… taking in our majestic but accessible mountains’.

“Much of Scotland’s reputation as a fantastic place to visit is thanks to its remaining areas of dramatic scenery. Measures to protect the mountains must be put in place now if we are to continue to attract, not just those who enjoy outdoor activities but, all those in search of natural beauty and tranquillity.

“We are calling on travel trade businesses to contact MSPs, and the Scottish Government’s tourism agency VisitScotland, to help them understand that damaging our number one unique selling point, Scotland’s Hhighland scenery, to the extent being proposed will undermine our tourism economy.”

The MCofS – which earlier this year made its opposition to the Clach Liath plans on the slopes of the Ben Wyvis massif clear – quotes figures showing that Scotland has 170 onshore wind farms operational or under construction.

Quoting RenewableUK, the UK’s renewable energy association, it says 295 more are already consented or in planning. If all are approved, it “could result in over 5,000 turbines supported with miles of service roads”. It warns more applications are being made every month.

The MCofS, representative organisation for Scotland’s mountaineers and hill walkers, also acts for the 75,000 members of the British Mountaineering Council on matters related to the mountain landscape north of the border.

In a new manifesto, it calls on the Scottish Government to engage with other organisations to develop a national spatial renewables policy. That has won support from the Munro Society, North East Mountain Trust and Cairngorms Campaign.

Mr Gibson insisted: “We are not opposed to wind farms; however, we are in favour of conserving our mountains. The Scottish Government could give real meaning to the 2013 Year of Natural Scotland by working with those who care about the environment to create a clear policy on what will be permitted and where.”

Bruce Morrison, chair of Ferintosh Community Council, which has responded to local feeling against plans that would impact on Ben Wyvis, said: “This initiative by MCofS makes perfect sense to those of us objecting to a wind farm application at Clach Liath, Ben Wyvis.

“Should the Ben Wyvis application be approved, we believe that the door would be open for any developments that directly interrupt and degrade the views of isolated and dominant Munros. The MCofS is right to call a stop to decisions and engage the tourism industry in this vital national debate.”

Contacted for comment, a Scottish Government spokesperson told the Journal: “The Scottish Government works closely with planning authorities, Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB and others to ensure that the construction and habitat management of wind farm developments is exemplary and impacts are minimised.

“ All applications are subject to the same level of scrutiny and the potential impact on the surrounding natural environment is taken into account as part of that process.

“Environmental groups such as RSPB, the World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth have also backed appropriately sited wind power as the best way to tackle climate change as well as bringing jobs and investment to communities across Scotland.

“Independent research, commissioned by VisitScotland, shows that 83 per cent of Scottish respondents and 80 per cent of UK respondents stated their decision to holiday in the UK would not be affected by the presence of a wind farm.

“The most recent tourism statistics show Scotland is growing in popularity with visitors, with a nine9 per cent rise in overnight stays.”

• Should Munros and Corbetts be specially protected from wind farms? Have your say online on our news homepage in our Big Vote.