The Scottish Government is being called on to act now to protect wild lands as a survey reveals that wind farms in mountain areas are damaging a key area of tourism.
The call from Scotland’s representative body for mountaineering comes ahead of a debate at Holyrood when MSPs will discuss the Draft Third National Planning Framework (NPF3).
A survey of nearly 1,000 climbers and hill walkers, carried out by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, revealed that 68% say parts of Scotland are now less appealing because of wind farms. Around two thirds have already been put off by wind farms from visiting or revisiting places in Scotland they had visited before.
Over four-fifths of respondents said there must be protection for National Parks, National Scenic Areas and Core Areas of wild land. Two-thirds want buffer zones so developers cannot spoil these special areas by placing industrial-scale wind farms around their perimeters.
And 67% say wind farms are making Scotland as a whole a less appealing place to visit.
The findings (see summary in Notes for Editors) come as large electricity generation and other renewables companies lobby the Scottish Government to abandon proposals for stronger planning guidelines (part of the NPF3 process) which would offer some extra protection for wild lands.
David Gibson, MCofS Chief Officer, said: “The survey results are a stark warning to the Scottish Government – badly sited wind farms are a serious threat to Scotland’s reputation as a tourism destination. The more that are built in our mountains, the more visitors are put off.
“Many of the wind farms planned for Scotland’s most remote and beautiful areas have yet been built and the evidence from this, and other surveys, suggests that visitors dislike them more and more as they cease to be a novelty.
“Natural heritage tourism is worth £1.6 billion (see Notes for Editors) to the Scottish economy and tourism organisations have consistently emphasised the importance of nurturing these kinds of visitors. One of the main ways of doing this is to ensure that Scotland is seen as offering an “authentic” experience.
“We have written to Energy, Enterprise and Tourism minister Fergus Ewing, who holds the brief both for the approval of large scale renewable energy developments and for tourism, asking for a meeting to discuss the urgent need to protect Scotland’s rapidly diminishing wild, open mountain landscapes.
“It is deeply disturbing that the renewables lobby is using all its influence to push the Scottish Government into abandoning proposals that would give some protection to one of Scotland’s greatest natural assets.
“Ministers must take decisive action to defend Scotland’s natural heritage and the livelihoods of all those small businesses and jobs that depend on walkers and climbers to make a living.”
The need to protect Scotland’s reputation among hill walkers and climbers was emphasised by the BMC (British Mountaineering Council), sister organisation of MCofS, which represents climbers and hill walkers in England and Wales.
BMC CEO Dave Turnbull said: “The survey results are no surprise to the BMC. The ‘away from it all’ feel of the Scottish mountains is one of their biggest attractions to walkers and climbers from south of the border. People will naturally vote with their feet and start avoiding areas with intrusive wind farm developments.”
Andrew Northcott, an English climber, is among those who increasingly find that badly sited wind farms are damaging the qualities which make Scotland’s mountains so special.
He said: “I headed up Meall nam Fuaran from Glen Quaich. It was my first walk in the Highlands for almost a year and I really looked forward to it.
“There should have been a fabulous view towards snow-covered mountains – but what a shame! Someone had put a wind farm high up at 600 meters, changing the wild experience and obscuring the view. I counted 14 turbines in total.
“Why is Scotland’s environment being trashed in pursuit of power?”
These views were echoed by John Mackenzie, The Earl of Cromartie, who runs a tourism business at Castle Leod, in Strathpeffer, and who is current president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and a former MCofS president.
“The attraction of Scotland for the climbers and hill walkers who live here, and for the many who visit from the rest of the UK and overseas, is that it offers the chance to escape into wild and beautiful mountains that are both accessible and of world class status despite their relatively small size; real mountains but on a human scale. It is this small scale of landscape that therefore makes industrial turbines so out of scale and thus visually intrusive.
“The mountain landscape is now under severe threat from the growing numbers of these industrial-scale wind farms that are increasingly changing the character of the landscape. It may not be easy to restore the landscape once the turbines have reached the end of their operating life. It is essential that we put a brake on this in order to protect our mountains and the tourism which is so vital to the prosperity of so many people in small and remote communities.
“The main cause of objection to this out-of-scale industrialisation is where it is placed and the effect it has on our landscape. The Scottish Government should seriously consider a buffer zone and be stringent where turbines are proposed in designated landscape areas.”