A majestic golden eagle could soon have a bird’s eye view of the “biggest and ugliest wind farm in the Highlands”, according to those who heralded the icon’s arrival on the edge of the Monadhliath mountains.
The 12-foot-wide bronze sculpture, crafted by Boat of Garten artist Tom Mackie, was commissioned by a landowner in tribute to the sensitive construction of the nearby £160 million Glendoe hydro scheme by Fort Augustus.
But critics of a proposed wind farm on the neighbouring Garrogie Estate now fear that living golden eagles could fall victim to the plethora of giant turbines proposed.
Praise for dam builders Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has switched to a torrent of anger over the power company’s plan for 67 huge turbines close by.
The Stronelairg scheme was consented by the Scottish Government in June but is currently the subject of a legal challenge by the John Muir Trust (JMT) wild land charity.
The stunning eagle statue, which has been perched on natural rock above the dam since 2009, was commissioned by Veronica Hargreaves of Glendoe Estate, who has since died at the age of 74. In April this year, her ashes were buried beneath the shadow of the impressive sculpture.
Her daughter Alex Stewart-Carter said: “She would be so upset. These turbines will destroy the integrity of the landscape – after all the trouble that was taken during the work on the dam to preserve the area and its wildlife.
“As a landscape artist, it became a constant sadness and frustration to see turbines popping up all over the countryside.
“Personally, I believe the better way would be to invest the money spent on wind farms on finding an alternative source of energy that does not alter so drastically the beautiful countryside we have.”
At 2,500 feet above sea level, the artwork is thought to be Britain’s highest wildlife sculpture.
Tom Mackie said: “I feel that having 67 turbines there would totally destroy the beauty of the place. Apart from being unsightly, they could be a hazard to the eagles’ natural habitat.”
SSE, which has promised a £30 million windfall for the area over 25 years, declined to respond, merely stating: “The Stronelairg wind farm proposal is currently the subject of a legal process.”
It says on its website that it has “taken care to minimise impact to the environment.”
While Highland Council raised no objection to the wind farm, JMT has lodged a petition to the Court of Session, seeking a judicial review, claiming it would “destroy the character” of an area of wild land in the Monadhliaths.
Its head of policy, Helen McDade, said: “This is a magnificent sculpture of a bird which has long been a symbol of Scotland’s wild and remote uplands. Tom’s work of art blends beautifully into a landscape where the golden eagle hovers, perches, swoops and feeds.
“If this wind farm goes ahead, the Glendoe eagle could be gazing over the biggest and ugliest wind farm in the Highlands – an alien forest of menacing steel turbines surrounded by pylons, transmission lines and bulldozed access roads.
“We did not object to the Glendoe reservoir. We felt it was an example of a sensitively designed energy scheme, the type of landscape where golden eagles could still have a place.”
In its objection to the wind scheme, the Scottish Wild Land Group charity stated: “This will have consequences for the wildlife of the area. In particular, the potential for further damage to golden eagle populations is great.”
A spokesman for RSPB Scotland said: “Perhaps ironically, given their reputation, wind farms such as Stronelairg and Dunmaglass may indirectly bring small net benefits to golden eagles in the Monadhliaths – though these are likely far smaller than the potential benefits of a management regime that is entirely benign to eagles over the whole area. Regrettably, such a scenario at present seems largely theoretical.”
The judicial review is due to be heard next month.
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