Walkers and climbers are being deterred from visiting Scotland as the rapid spread of wind farms leads to the “industrialisation” of the countryside, according to a survey published today.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCS) published a survey of nearly 1,000 people, which found two-thirds said turbines are making Scotland a less appealing place to visit.
Around the same proportion said they had already been put off visiting or revisiting parts of Scotland thanks to the presence of wind farms.
More than four out of five respondents called for “buffer zones” around areas of outstanding beauty where energy companies would be barred from building turbines.
The MCS said the findings were a “stark warning” to SNP ministers, who have encouraged the rapid spread of wind farms, that that their policies were damaging tourism.
Although previous academic research has found the vast majority of tourists in Scotland had not been put off by wind farms, the MCS said the most recent survey was conducted in 2007 when turbines were still considered a “novelty”.
Since then, the council said the generating capacity of wind farms north of the Border has almost quadrupled and “public responses are changing as a consequence.”
But earlier this month the Daily Telegraph disclosed how four of the Big Six energy companies have warned Alex Salmond they must be allowed to build on wild land if his radical green energy targets are to be met.
The Earl of Cromartie, who is president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and runs a tourism business in Strathpeffer, said: “The mountain landscape is now under severe threat from the growing numbers of these industrial-scale wind farms.
“It is essential that we put a brake on this in order to protect our mountains and the tourism which is so vital to the prosperity of so many people in small and remote communities.”
David Gibson, MCS chief officer, said: “The survey results are a stark warning to the Scottish Government – badly sited wind farms are a serious threat to Scotland’s reputation as a tourism destination. The more that are built in our mountains, the more visitors are put off.”
Of the 970 respondents to the survey, 77 per cent lived in Scotland. Sixty-eight per cent said they thought wind farm have made places in Scotland less appealing for walking and climbing, while a quarter disagreed.
A similar proportion (64 per cent) said there were places they were less likely to visit or revisit thanks to the presence of turbines, with 32 per cent disagreeing with that statement.
Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73 per cent) said they would choose accommodation without a wind farm view compared to five per cent who said they wanted to see a turbine and 22 per cent who were “not bothered either way”.
But Joss Blasmire, senior policy manager for Scottish Renewables, which represents wind farm companies said: “What today’s survey shows is that even within the hill walking community, opinions about the aesthetics of wind farms are wide-ranging.”
He cited a YouGov poll conducted for the trade body a year ago, which found 69 per cent of visitors would not change their decision to visit an area if there was a wind farm present.
A Scottish Government spokesman insisted there was “strong public support” for wind power and said its planning policies strikes the correct balance between protecting scenic areas and keeping the lights on.
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