December 19, 2017

Warning wild lands ‘irrevocably damaged’ by push for wind power

Mike Merritt | The Herald | December 19, 2017 |

The retiring head of the body representing Scotland’s climbers and hillwalkers has condemned as “unsustainable” the growth of wind farms on wild land across the country.

David Gibson is to step down as chief executive officer of Mountaineering Scotland in March, after 11 years leading the group of 14,000 members.

He said that thought Mountaineering Scotland had won several battles against intrusive wind farms it had also lost others and some areas of the Highlands were now “irrevocably damaged”.

“The vast majority of the public have never been near the mountains so they have no real idea of the damage that wind farms can do the the landscape,” said Mr Gibson.

“It is not sustainable for the First minister or [national tourism body] VisitScotland to trumpet Scotland as the best country in the world to visit while these large wind farms are being built on such a scale.

“And there are two dozen more in the pipeline of concern because of their size and positioning.

“There have already been too many windfarms constructed – or will be built – that have irrevocably damaged the landscape, or will do when they are constructed.”

Mr Gibson singled out the Creag Riabhach Wind Farm to be developed on a site on the Altnaharra Estate in Sutherland, and the Stronelairg wind in the Monadhliath mountains to the east of Fort Augustus, as examples of schemes that would “wreck the landscape”.

Danish billionaire Anders Povlsen had sought a judicial review through his company Wildland into the decision to allow the 22-turbine Creag Riabhach wind farm to be developed, but lost at the Court of Session in Edinburgh during the summer.

Creag Riabhach was the first such project to have been approved in a designated wild land area since the ministers adopted a revised planning framework in 2014.

The rules were devised to protect the country’s most rugged and beautiful landscapes, but campaigners have said they fall short.

“It has been very challenging taking on Scottish Government policy and big business like SSE when we only have a £500,000 budget for the entire organisation,” added Mr Gibson.

“It has all been done on a shoestring. The mountains have changed considerably over the last 20 years – then there were no wind farms on them.

“The Government has never sat down and consulted on spatial planning policy for wind farms.

“I think they have now come some way in regards to National Scenic Areas to protect them against wind farms. I would like to see that extended to wild land.”

Mr Gibson, 65 added that he planned to spend his retirement exploring more of Scotland’s hills and Mountaineering Scotland is in much better shape than when he joined it.

He added they had won some battles and attempted to “protect mountaineers’ rights to enjoy their sport – particularly at times when some people have been calling for them to be closed after certain tragedies”.

A government spokesman said wind power and other renewables were already playing a crucial role in meeting Scotland’s move towards a low-carbon future.

He added: “However, we also have clear policies to ensure developments only go ahead in the right places and Scottish planning policy now provides additional protection for our National Parks and National Scenic Areas and the impacts on wild land are now formally considered as a material factor in determining planning decisions, where relevant.”

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