Forestry chiefs have been accused of ‘desecrating’ Scotland’s countryside after felling almost 6,500 acres of woodland to make way for wind turbines.
Alarming figures show that vast swathes of forestry have been cleared to make way for just seven wind farms in unspoiled countryside in only two years.
One development in Kintyre saw 1,300 acres of woodland felled, while another in Caithness saw 1,000 acres cleared to make way for turbines.
Documents published by the Forestry Commission Scotland indicate that less than half of the forestry destroyed in the creation of wind farms has either been replanted or is earmarked for replanting.
In 2012, then First Minister Alex Salmond claimed the spread of wind farms ‘enhances our appeal as a country’.
But experts have warned that Scotland’s booming tourism industry could be damaged by the replacement of forestry with industrial wind turbines.
Dr Benny Peiser, of the Global Warming Policy Foundation think-tank, said: ‘This has been happening in other parts of Europe for some time. People in Scotland are not as aware of it because the forestry is not close to population centres.
‘Many of these forms of renewable energy have far greater impact on the environment than simply building a power plant.
‘By building wind farms they are destroying huge areas of forestry for very little effect and are desecrating large parts of beautiful countryside, which can only damage Scotland as a tourism destination.’
The figures show that between 2014 and 2016, a total of 6,409 acres of forestry were felled to make way for wind farm developments – the equivalent of ten square miles.
A further 795 acres of forestry has yet to be felled at the A’Cruach wind farm near Ardrishaig, Argyll.
At three developments – Beinn an Tuirc near Campbeltown, Argyll and Stroupster and Burn of Whilk in Caithness – none of the 3,300 acres of forestry felled has been replanted.
The largest deforestation took place at Harestanes wind farm near Moffat, Dumfriesshire, where 1,690 acres were felled. However, 1,124 of these acres have been replanted.
Officials said 1,252 acres have been replanted and 1,406 have yet to be replaced across all seven wind farms.
Tory environment spokesman Donald Cameron said: ‘Wind farms are part of our energy mix but we must ask if destroying so many trees and dramatically changing the landscape is a worthwhile trade-off when wind farms could be sited elsewhere.
‘This does look like the SNP is so obsessed with onshore wind energy that it doesn’t mind destroying forestry to make way for it. We can’t just trade one environmental resource for another.’
A spokesman for Forest Enterprise Scotland, the part of Forestry Commission Scotland responsible for the management of forests, said:
‘We have strong controls on woodland removal.
‘The amount felled for these wind farms equates to 0.4 per cent of the total area of public land managed by Forest Enterprise Scotland.
‘Two-thirds of woodland felled will be replanted or become restored habitats, with the small remainder used for wind farm infrastructure.’
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