Tourism chiefs have admitted for the first time that wind farms could drive holidaymakers away.
In an intervention likely to embarrass the Scottish Government, VisitScotland has said an application to put turbines on a site north of Dumfries could have a ‘detrimental effect’ on tourism.
Its statement comes after Alex Salmond claimed wind farms ‘enhance our appeal as a country’ and puts the Scottish Government-funded quango on a collision course with its paymasters.
It has been welcomed, however, by critics, who want a moratorium on turbine applications.
Murdo Fraser, Tory convener of the Holyrood energy and tourism committee, said: ‘This is a significant development in the fight against the SNP’s wind farm obsession. If wind farms will damage tourism in one area of Scotland, this is surely the case the country over.’
There are as many as 2,700 turbines north of the Border and seven applications a day are made to councils to erect more.
Wind farm developers can cash in on £400million in subsidies paid in Britain every year – huge payments which have been cut by only 10 per cent by the Scottish Government in its drive to provide 100 per cent of electricity through renewable energy by 2020.
Opponents have warned that if every planned turbine goes ahead, there could be more than 5,000 turbines blanketing Scotland.
With many of these sited in the Highlands and islands, it is feared they could damage the country’s £11billion-a-year tourism trade.
VisitScotland says it does not oppose wind farms in principle and earlier this year it published a survey which concluded four out of five tourists would not be put off visiting Scotland by the turbines. However, it has admitted that a ten-turbine wind farm at Minnygap, Dumfriesshire, could hurt tourism.
The turbines would stand on part of the Southern Upland Way – a 212-mile coast-to-coast route between Portpatrick, Wigtownshire, and Cockburnspath, Berwickshire – which is popular with hikers, horse-riders and cyclists.
In a planning committee report to be presented to Dumfries and Galloway Council on Thursday, VisitScotland says ‘the proposed development appears to be visible from the Southern Upland Way, which is an important part of the tourism offering in the area.
‘There have been a number of applications for wind farm developments along the route of the walk. Should all of these be granted, there could be a cumulative detrimental effect on walkers.’
David Gibson, of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: ‘This intervention was long overdue. I hope the Scottish Government sits up and takes notice.’
A VisitScotland spokesman said: ‘When consulted as part of the formal planning process, VisitScotland recommends tourism concerns are taken into account when granting planning permission.’
Dumfries and Galloway Council is recommending the application be refused on the grounds that it will interfere with nuclear detectors at Eskdalemuir weather station.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘VisitScotland’s own research backs up previous studies – the majority of tourists are not deterred by wind turbines. In fact, evidence shows that wind turbines can attract tourists.’