I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of some of the members of Ecotourism Ireland yesterday, at the stunning setting of Cnoc Suain, a renovated bog village near Spiddal, Connemara [An Spidéal, Connamara, Gaillimh]. These tourism experiences are not only designed to offer something out of the ordinary, but to ensure that the footprint left by the tourist is as small as possible.
Cnoc Suain is a small cluster of stone, whitewash and thatch cottages perched on a hillside above a lake, and the bogland for which Connemara is so renowned. The owners, Dearbhaill and Charlie offer an immersive experience of Irish language, culture and nature. It’s easy to see in places like this how the landscape has influenced the culture.
Cnoc Suain is located up a small track wending its way into the bog through small spindly trees. The settlement sits in the lee of a small hill, with a gaggle of wind turbines silently spinning just over the brow of the hill. It’s the quiet that you first notice when you get out of the car. The bogland deadens sound and you find yourself whispering out of respect to the silence.
Charlie is all shaggy hair and twinkling eyes as he explains how he and Dearbhaill bought the property in 1994, and spend the following years renovating the settlement part time, whilst holding down other jobs and doing the work very much as a labour of love. They both are passionate about Gaelic heritage and culture, and the interaction the boglands have had with the people that lived in the region. My eyes are drawn back to the wind turbines standing sentinel over Cnoc Suain and I ask Charlie about them.
His eyes cloud over and he produces an artist’s impression of a proposal to deploy a further 130 turbines in the valley around the rear of the small lake. It is my turn to look troubled. I would be the first to be in favour of renewable energy and feel it is everyone’s responsibility to share the burden of maintaining and improving the standard of living we enjoy, without further depleting the environment, but the scale of the proposed development if out of keeping with the character of the landscape.
What’s more, construction on peat is notoriously difficult, due to its unstable nature and the sensitivity of the peatland environment. My eyes are drawn back to the small lake and Charlie reads my mind.
“The river coming out of the lake is the only river in South Connemara that has a freshwater pearl mussel population”, he continues.
I know from my experience of windfarm development and forestry in upland areas that the inevitable sediment release is likely to have a serious effect on the pearl mussel population. I express surprise that a development of such magnitude has been granted planning permission. Charlie shrugs and cites powerful and vested interests who seemed able to overcome the real concerns about such a development in such a sensitive area.
As a proponent of renewable energy, I felt a sense of unease at how a technology which should have people like Charlie at the forefront of its promotion, have been alienated by what seems an insensitive piece of planning, and a clumsy implementation process. He ironically chuckles at the fact that people assume the half dozen turbines nearby on the hill are something to do with Cnoc Suain.
We all must share the responsibility of living more sustainably, but that shouldn’t be at the cost of our landscape and heritage. Personally I find wind turbines to be elegant and beautiful, but they should be sited in such a way that they complement the landscape, not overpower it. Some areas have a higher carrying capacity for turbines, but areas like Connemara need treating with more care. I’m not saying there should be no wind turbines, but they should be sited in small clusters and dispersed.
Construction and site re-instatement should also be much more carefully planned and carried out, and I await the next stage of this process with interest.
I hope to return to Cnoc Suain soon, but its beauty and silence left me with a nagging sense that surely we can be making better decisions with the way we move forward with our renewables future?
Project Manager – Green Business
Irish Environmental Protection Agency
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