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Anger at windfarm plans for Scotland’s largest nature reserve

Campaigners and developers are heading for a showdown over plans for a windfarm overlooking the UK’s largest local nature reserve.

Green power firm Ecotricity is to stage a public meeting over its plans for turbines on the hills facing Wigtown Bay on the Galloway coast, just a month after accusations it declined to meet protesters.

The firm is expected to submit a formal application for the plans for seven 413ft tall turbines in the coming weeks.

The move has sparked local ire, amid claims it would damage both the area’s local tourism, as well as wildlife.

Last month, Galloway residents formed the ‘Save Wigtown Bay’ protest group to oppose Ecotricity, with matters expected to come to a head at an exhibition today (wed) at the village hall in Carsluith.

A second event is planned for tomorrow (thur) at Wigtown County Buildings.

A proposal to construct an offshore windfarm in Wigtown Bay was turned down by the Scottish Government in early 2011. The potential effect on tourism was cited as a major reason in the decision.

The campaigners say the turbines would dominate the landscape over the bay, which is the biggest local nature reserve in Britain, with four Site of Special Scientific (SSI) Interests within a mile of the proposed windfarm.

With Wigtown home to an increasingly popular literary festival and an inspiration for Robert Burns, J M Barrie and Gavin Maxwell, author of Ring of Bright Water, one campaigner said the plans would “form a heinous backdrop to Scotland’s National Book Town”.

There have been accusations the turbines would “scar the Galloway Hills and views from the Machars Coast indefinitely”, interfere with plans for further breeding eagles to be introduced in area already home to peregrine falcons, hen harriers, ospreys and red kites.

The developers also face claims the setting of many significant sites of archaeological or historical importance would be tarnished by the turbines.

A Save Wigtown Bay spokesman said: “We encourage as many people to attend and ask questions.

“According to the Ecotricity website they are now planning to reduce the turbine height to 110 metres (413ft), which is still four times the height of the Wigtown County buildings and 60 metres taller than the biggest man made structures that should be considered for the area.

“Also, they are planning to increase the length of each moving blade by four metres. This will make the visual impact much worse for everyone who can see them.”

An application by Ecotricity for a mast was turned down by Dumfries and Galloway Council last August but it has appealed directly to the Scottish Government.

A company spokesman said: “we carry out extensive assessments and surveys that ensure minimal impact on the local area. If there were unacceptable impacts, we would not get permission and would not pursue the application in the first place.

“Given the distance from Sites of SSI, the topography of the site and its placement within the Galloway Hills RSA, we are confident that the landscape can accommodate the turbines.

“We have consulted with SNH and RSPB, as well as carrying out our own data analysis and seasonal surveys, and the results of these assessments confirm that there are no significant effects on wildlife in the area.”

“The process is not inflexible and we recognise that an iterative approach is the best way to ensure the optimum environmental fit: that said, if we do receive new information, we are happy to incorporate changes into the plan or put mitigation measures in place to counter any potential impacts.”