A row has blown up between a respected economist and one of Scotland’s leading conservation bodies over the effect of wind farms on tourism.
The march of giant turbines across some of the country’s most iconic landscapes has been blamed for damaging rural economies but a recent report by Edinburgh-based Biggar Economics concluded that there is no link. Donald Trump, the US presidential candidate, who has fought plans for an offshore wind farm close to his golf resort in Aberdeenshire, is among those to have warned that wind farms “destroy tourism”.
Now the John Muir Trust (JMT), which campaigns to protect wild land, has criticised Biggar’s report as “flawed and misleading” and questioned the reliability of evidence presented by the firm at several public inquries into controversial wind farms.
“We have seen Biggar Economics’s reports and its evidence at inquiries on the issue of whether tourism might be affected by wind farms,” said Helen McDade, from the JMT. “We had significant doubts about the way in which this report and its conclusions were done so we commissioned independent analysis.”
Biggar found evidence that tourism booms occurred in some parts of Scotland during a a sharp rise in onshore wind installations between 2009-13.
However, Douglas Wynn, a business consultant hired by JMT to carry out a review, claims the timeframe is “short and selective”, adding: “If 2009 to 2014, had been used instead, stated employment growth across Scotland would have been much lower than the 2009-2013 figures, so it would not demonstrate a significant trend.”
Wynn, who is a trustee of JMT, also criticises Biggar’s reliance on tourism figures covering large urban areas “when the contentious issue is impacts on landscape of tourism in rural and remote areas”.
On Friday, Graeme Blackett, from Biggar Economics, said that because JMT has campaigned against wind farms, it “cannot reasonably be considered to be independent on this issue”. He added: “We believe that none of the criticisms made of the methodology are reasonable.”
Blackett said 2013 was chosen as the end point for the analysis because 2014 was “an atypical year” for Scottish tourism, boosted by the Year of Homecoming, the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.
“It is reasonable to speculate that if there was a correlation to be found between trends in tourism employment and wind farm development that it is more likely that they would be found in the 2013 data than using 2014 data,” said Blackett. “It was necessary and appropriate for the study to consider changes in tourism employment in areas around wind farms with trends at local authority level and for Scotland as a whole. Such an approach helps to indicate whether there may be local factors at play or whether changes might be part of a wider national trend.”
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland insists it has evidence that climbers and walkers do not want to pursue their activity and spend money in areas they regard as spoilt by industrial-scale wind farms. A recent survey by the charity of almost 1,000 members found between a quarter and a half of mountaineers “may go elsewhere if wind farms are built in inappropriate places. One quarter already are doing so.”
“I have given expert evidence at a number of public inquiries into proposed wind farm developments, on economic impacts and tourism impacts,” said Blackett. “The JMT has lamented the lack of research that has considered local tourism economies before and after wind farm development. Now that such research has been undertaken, it is disappointing to see that the JMT has chosen to attack the study methodology rather than engage with its findings and consider its implications.”