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Land court hears evidence on tourism and peat bog restoration

A hearing of the Scottish Land Court got under way in Lerwick on Monday afternoon to determine whether or not Viking Energy can build its planned 103-turbine wind farm on crofting land in the north mainland of Shetland.

The company’s application for consent is challenged by four local crofters, Lorna Moncrieff, Kerry Tait, John Anderson and James Cheyne, who argue that they would be unduly disadvantaged by the wind farm should the project go ahead.

On Monday, two expert witnesses in support of the Viking application gave evidence on tourism, peat restoration and the habitat management plan.

First was Graeme Blackett of economic consultancy Biggar Economics who has been working on the likely impact of wind farm developments on tourism for the last 15 years.

Blackett said that he has been working for clients in the renewables and tourism industries, as well as carrying out independent research, and had never found any “empirical evidence” that tourism is negatively impacted by wind farm developments.

He said that between 2009 and 2015 the capacity of wind farms in Scotland had grown from 3 Gigawatt to 5.3 Gigawatt, while the sustainable tourism sector had grown by 15 per cent. “It can be argued that they can co-exist,” he added.

Under cross-examination from Sustainable Shetland vice-chairman James Mackenzie, who is representing two of the crofters, John Anderson and James Cheyne, Blackett conceded that no such research had ever been carried out for large wind farms in island settings.

Mackenzie also suggested that the visual impact of a large scale development on the land- and seascape of an island might be more significant than elsewhere in Scotland, to which Blackett responded that all his research suggested that people initially expressed fears which usually proved to be unjustified once the wind farm was in place.

Second witness of the day was Dr Simon Zisman, the ecology director Edinburgh based RPS consultants. Formerly of the RSPB, Dr Zisman said he had 25 years experience in wildlife conservation.

His evidence focussed on peat bog restoration and the habitat management plan, which, he said, should benefit moorland birds such as red-throated divers, merlin and the whimbrel.

Dr Zisman said the habitat management plan for the area had the ambitious target of restoring 260 hectares of peat bog to “mitigate the impact of the construction and operation of the wind farm.

He added: “Blanket bog restoration will be able to go ahead without impacting on crofting activity – and will ultimately increase the area that can be used for common grazing,” he said.

The land court hearing continued at the Islesburgh Community Centre on Tuesday morning.

The court is expected to sit all week and is also likely to visit the crofts of those who have objected to the wind farm plans.

A written judgement will be issued some weeks after the hearing.