A commercial peat-cutting business in Caithness could go up in smoke if plans for a large-scale wind farm get the go-ahead.
The threat to George and Trisha’s Sutherland enterprise on the Causewaymire comes as RWE npower renewables bids to put up 13 turbines on ground which includes the peat workings.
Local community councillors have rallied in support of the couple while a malting company has claimed it will badly suffer if its peat supply is shut off.
Yesterday, a chink of light opened up when RWE revealed that it is prepared to review its previous blanket opposition to the continuation of the peat business.
The Sutherlands, of Roadside Croft, Harpsdale, have run Caithness Peat since 1994.
The site was previously worked by Northern Peat & Moss by then land owner Neil Godsman, who built up a thriving export trade.
Mr Sutherland was employed by the company and decided to start up on his own when Mr Godsman’s business wound up.
The couple, who also run a successful soft fruit venture, have consent to extract peat from several hundred acres of the site, which borders the main A9, south of Spittal.
But the rub has come as a result of the new owners of the land working along with RWE on plans to develop a wind farm.
Speaking from his croft yesterday, Mr Sutherland said: “The owners want windmills to go up and while we’re not against that, I’ve basically been told that the peat-cutting business will end when they start the construction works.
“The problem is that we do not have a long-term lease for the land – it runs on a year-to-year basis.”
Mr Sutherland is at a loss to know why the peat-cutting could not operate alongside the turbines.
“I see no reason why we can’t come to an agreement so that both could co-exist.”
As well as supplying householders, the peat harvested by the business is used to enrich the soil for the soft fruit they produce at Harpsdale.
Regular deliveries are also made to the Inverness depot of national malting company Baird’s Malt, which supply major distilleries.
Halkirk & District Community Council is up in arms over the threat to the Sutherlands’ peat business.
“Unfortunately the little man just gets stood on,” chairwoman Gillian Coghill said.
“I don’t see why someone can come in wipe somebody’s business out and then walk off.”
Mrs Coghill added: “We have fully backed Mr Sutherland and we are in discussions with the renewable energy company.
“We will fight his corner as hard as we can – somebody has to.”
She said the ideal situation would be to reduce the number of turbines by two so that the area where Mr Sutherland cuts peat would be left alone.
She explained: “Mr Sutherland originally approached me with the windfarm proposals and he said that they had lots of facts wrong.
“I got the documents from Karen Fox at RWE who is the person dealing with it all and I read through it and there were a few things wrong.”
“The community council is not at all happy with what’s going on because they are putting a man out of business for the sake of two wind turbines.
“The company (RWE) claimed they couldn’t see a way round it as they didn’t want peat-cutting going on around it but then we got an endorsement letter from Baird’s Malt, as it has a knock-on effect on their business which is a multi-million pound industry to Scotland.
“They (Baird’s) claim that without his input their access to peat is virtually nil and they desperately need this.”
Ms Fox said yesterday: “During the development process, early consultations with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Highland Council indicated that the development of the wind farm on the site would provide an excellent opportunity to re-establish the peat land habitats so characteristic of Caithness.
“To achieve this, it would mean that current activity on site would have to cease. Since submitting the planning application, we have met with Halkirk Community Council and the proprietor of Caithness Peat Ltd and we are now much more aware and have taken on board the concerns of the community regarding the wind farm and peat cutting business.”
Ms Fox added: “At the meeting in September, we stated that we would review the habitat management proposal and discuss this further with relevant organisations such as SNH and Highland Council to understand their views on how the wind farm and peat-cutting activity might operate alongside each other.
“We hope to get a meeting with SNH in the next couple of weeks.”