On Sunday, July 4, Save Our Hills wrote an opinion piece in the Mail on Sunday on the importance of protecting Scotland's landscape as climate change mitigation policies are introduced. The full text of the piece is below.
By Iain Milligan, spokesman for Save Our Hills
The longest recorded line of sight in the UK is from the summit of Snowdon to the hills of Merrick in Dumfries and Galloway.
Indeed, the 144-mile vista is one of the most impressive in the world, and means with the right conditions and light someone at the top of Wales’ highest peak can look across the sea right into the beginnings of rural Scotland.
It is a proud record, and reaffirms the fact that the hills and ridges of the south of Scotland aren’t just enjoyed by those living there, but can be seen from miles around and in every direction.
Yet it is these very hillsides which are being relentlessly targeted by developers of large-scale windfarms, who are increasingly seeing Scotland as a soft touch when it comes to planning.
They admit themselves that they’ve given up trying to wreck England’s countryside with swathes of gigantic turbines because the UK Government isn’t standing for it anymore.
South of the border, onshore windfarms will only be consented if the community who have to live with them agree to their presence.
That is how it should be in Scotland too.
And it isn’t just Dumfries and Galloway which is impacted by the march to tick renewable energy boxes.
There’s no question the area is at saturation point, but many living in other parts of the country like the Highlands and parts of Ayrshire and Lanarkshire are similarly fed up with windfarms.
In contrast, places like Fife appear to have a council which stands up to mass development, and as a consequence have accepted a far lower proportion of windfarm applications than other local authorities.
The Scottish Government has recently consulted on its ‘Climate Change – Net Zero Nation’ strategy, which it states is to “set out our overarching framework for engaging the people on Scotland in the transition to a net zero nation”.
In other words, ministers have the very understandable and indeed admirable desire to clean up Scotland’s environment and reduce emissions, and they want to ensure they do this while bringing communities along with them.
Yet the document itself is vacuous and so unspecific as to be almost meaningless.
There seems to be nothing sufficiently focused on involving the communities where people will be left with the consequences of climate change mitigation.
Our concern is that this strategy will be used to wave through even more windfarm applications, rolling out the red carpet to developers from all over the world who want to profit at the expense of our countryside’s expense.
That’s why we want to see local communities who live with these enormous windfarms looming over them given a determinative vote on whether future developments go ahead.
That will level the playing field, and means that when large turbines are to be built, those living nearby will be on board.
This isn’t to say there shouldn’t ever be an onshore windfarm built in Scotland ever again.
But it would mean stiffening up the planning process to be closer to that of England.
As an organisation we completely accept the need for the so-called green recovery and agree there should be a focus on renewable energy.
The scenes coming in from across the world in recent days, from flooding in Bangladesh to wildfires in Canada, remind us that the planet does indeed have a major problem on its hands.
But this Scottish Government seems to have thrown almost everything at onshore wind when it should be investigating offshore equivalents – which are far less intrusive on communities – and other options like hydro.
The need to reduce carbon emissions should not come at the expense of Scotland’s precious countryside whatever the cost.
Our tourism industry, which is already in an extremely fragile state thanks to the pandemic, will not benefit from more turbines.
Visitors from across the world do not flock to our rural areas in the hope of seeing metal blades rotating laboriously across the landscape.
A recent report from a renewable energy organisation claimed the people of Scotland repeatedly supported the concept of windfarms when asked in surveys.
They even said some turbine fanatics liked to track down windfarms to take pictures and post them lovingly to social media sites like Instagram.
Well, perhaps if I lived in central Edinburgh or the west end of Glasgow, I’d quite like windfarms on the other side of the country.
After all, if you look out of your window to a bustling urban scene, turbines are of next to no consequence to you.
But that’s not the case if you live in rural Scotland where these huge blades completely dominate the scenery by day, and, increasingly, light up an otherwise black sky at night.
If these surveys were conducted in places which must live with the developments the results would be entirely different, and that’s probably why they are never carried out.
And it’s not just a visual issue.
In May there was a virtual conference on the noise caused by large windfarms which was attended by the Scottish Government.
According to our research the official was only there in a “personal learning development capacity”.
Yet their notes which we obtained through Freedom of Information showed a number of concerns were raised, not least about whether or not guidance on noise from the World Health Organisation should be updated.
The summit also discussed the disturbance of sleep upon people who live near turbines, as well as the overall psychological effects.
So next time these fears are raised by communities concerned about another gigantic windfarm, they cannot be blithely dismissed by the Scottish Government as simply scare-mongering.
Another argument we hear is the boost onshore wind brings to Scotland’s economy.
But that is a hopeless claim, and one that doesn’t stand up to even a minute of scrutiny.
The Scottish Government currently has almost 40 major windfarm developments on its desk awaiting a planning decision.
These are developments which are either deemed too large for humble councils to adjudicate on, or have gone to ministers on appeal after local authorities said no.
Only a fifth are those are from Scottish-owned developers, and that’s being generous when you consider one prolific domestic developer – Scottish Power - is actually owned by Spanish energy giant Iberdrola.
Among those awaiting a decision are companies owned by the Norwegian and Swedish governments, as well as firms in Canada, France and Germany.
There are also 10 major applications from English-owned firms.
Ultimately, the millions upon millions of pounds that these projects will earn over the next few decades won’t go to communities affected, or even create jobs in Scotland’s cities.
They will leave these borders, with the villages and towns impacted benefiting from little other than a new playpark, and that’s if they’re lucky.
And that’s before you even consider that many landowners who allow these developments are absentees from the area with little or no emotional investment locally.
Rural Scotland has had enough, and it’s time the Scottish Government stood up for their interests.
If it does not, those admiring our countryside – from Snowdon or anywhere else – will have little to focus on other than an unmitigated spread of ugly and unpopular eyesores.
That’s not a legacy for anyone to be proud of.