Saturday, 16 June 2012

Protecting our Mountains: The MCofS’s line in the sand


There is a creeping tragedy being played out in the Scottish Highlands. We are losing more and more of our wild places to industrialisation from wind power stations. If we do not act now, standing on a windswept hilltop, seeing nothing but miles and miles of hills stretching out like vast Atlantic rollers in every direction will very soon be a thing of the past.

It’s generally agreed that ‘renewable energy’ should be part of our energy portfolio, so that we will be less reliant on fossil fuels. There are those that say this is vital so that we can reduce our carbon emissions. Whatever your viewpoint, it is clear that wind power is here right now and expanding fast.

The wind industry has been rapacious in it’s quest for more and land to site larger and larger turbines. As the obvious sites are now drying up, the application for these wind “farms” are now encroaching on more and more of our wild land. There are currently about 3,500 wind turbines in Britain’s countryside, but there are plans to increase this number to 10,000. As an example of the difficulties now facing the developers searching for suitable sites, the latest scheme is for turbines on one of Scotland’s finest Munros, Ben Wyvis, which I wrote about last year.

With literally thousands of wind turbines in the planning process it is becoming more and more difficult for communities to fund and fight these applications. There is no coordinating organisation that works to fight these applications. There is no central government planning policy saying where windfarms should be sited. Each application stands or falls on it’s own merits.

Clearly. this is an unacceptable situation. Individual communities just don’t have the money, know-how or the muscle to fight these well funded developers and so with government guidelines stressing the need for renewables, the government appointed planning inspectors generally pass all the appeals from the developers should the local planners refuse the applications.

Recently, the Bill Bryson and the CPRE came out against poorly sited wind farms and now the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) has come out fighting.  It has published a manifesto for onshore wind farms:

“Protecting our Mountains – The MCofS manifesto on onshore wind farms”

In the introduction, it states:

“The mountains and wild places of Scotland are a national asset beyond price, yet they risk being irrevocably damaged by commercial wind farm developments.

This document reflects the determination of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland  to defend this precious resource. It examines some of the issues and proposes practical action to balance the need for clean energy with the need to conserve our natural heritage.”

They call for

  • A halt to all commercial wind farms encroaching on the land of the Munros and Corbett's or having an adverse or significant impact on their visual amenity.
  • Clear, unequivocal national and local policy statements declaring that there will be no future commercial wind farm developments in these areas
  • A holistic Scottish energy strategy which includes the siting of wind farms
  • Firm commitments by parties, politicians, planners and wind farm developers that they will protect Scotland’s mountains from unwelcome change.

In the concluding paragraph of the manifesto, it states:

“Scotland needs coherent policies, strategies and implementation to replace the current piecemeal and subjective approach. These must guarantee that the Munros and Corbetts are protected. In doing this, the country can become a leader in renewable energy best-practice, contributing to the long-term success of the switch to clean energy by maintaining public support and by protecting places that are of irreplaceable scenic, cultural, social and natural significance.”


In effect, they have drawn a line in the sand. It has to be drawn somewhere and I suppose it is easier to defend already quantified hills rather than a generic "wild land" approach. It's important now that everyone gets behind this and gives it a good shove, right beneath every Scottish politicians' nose to let them know that they cannot continue to destroy the wild places.

It would be great if you could read the Manifesto in full and then pass on the link to all your friends. If everyone in Scotland could email it to their local MSP they might, just might, listen and take action to defend Scotland’s wild places.


  1. I have read it.
    I agree with it all.
    But I fear, it is too late to stop the blight, and to change the opinions of so many ill informed politicians.
    If they just stopped subsidising the bloody things as of NOW, they planning applications would dry up.
    It would be nice if govt said.
    We are happy for you to apply.
    Feel free.
    You will get bugger all money from us to fund it.

    Oh well.

    1. One problem is that all our electrical energy is subsidised to some extent or other. But if the wind energy developers were to realise that they could not get planning permission for mountainous areas, then they wouldn't apply for it there and look elsewhere.

    2. That's the key for me, and should be one of the cornerstones of any planning application: This proposal is for a power plant; would we entertain the idea of any other type of power generating facility in this location? Would we entertain the idea of any other type of industrial development in this location?

      If the answer to either of those questions is 'No' then the application should be thrown out. Turbines have managed to become regarded as some kind of special case; personally I don't see the logic and planning proposals should stand or fall on their logic.

    3. I agree 100%.
      It's outrageous that these industrial developments are even *considered* in these places. Try putting in an application for a factory manufacturing nuts and bolts in those locations and it would be rightly chucked out.

      It's down to money. Money for the landowners, developers and energy businesses and tax revenues - both local and national - and the wish for governments to be seen to be doing something about global warming.

  2. How about starting a campaign?
    "A million voices against a million on shore windmills,not blind resistance, but resistance to blind progress.
    with clear goals backing up others and complimentary to MCofS,JMT, FroLD but targeting Friends of the Earth to change policy.

    1. Hi Mike

      I like the idea, but I believe that you would be banging your head against a brick wall trying to change the minds of the Friends of the Earth. They have made it quite plain that they believe it is worth sacrificing wild land for wind turbines in the cause of reducing carbon emissions.

      FoE are, after all, just a lobbying group, lobbying in this instance against what we want.

      We will get far better results trying to influence the chaps with their hands on the levers of power - the politicians.

  3. The MCoS's 'line in the sand' will be washed away if Mr Salmond so wishes. It means zero, sadly. Having said that I'm optimistic that the Ben Wyvis proposal won't (ultimately) be approved, but those turbines will go elsewhere no doubt about that. There appears to be little sign that tourism is being affected by the presence of turbines in the Scottish landscape: I have never seen so many people on Skye earlier this month - wild horses wouldn't have got me on the Cuillin, and that's saying something. But the north of the island was just as busy even though there are a growing number of turbines there. With some unease, it did occur to me that I was there also....

    When Mr Salmond opens the Scottish National Trail (courtesy C McNeish as far as I can tell)he will no doubt wax lyrical about the great Scottish landscape and the thousands who will come to walk the trail. And he'll be right. Wonderful platform he's been handed. The battle against windfarms was lost years ago I'm afraid. (I used to scream at the early Challenge podcasts when no-one mentioned turbines).I agree there's no point in trying to engage Friends of the Earth but neither have the MCoS, JMT, me or anyone else any chance of persuading Scottish politicians to change their energy policy. Sorry, but we are at the 'huffing and puffing' stage now. I wish it were otherwise Alan.

    1. Hi Gibson
      There does seem to be more and more criticism in the Scottish press over the continued push for more windfarms in mountainous places. Currently there is a great deal of comment about Allt Duine and Ben Wyvis - both hot potatoes.

      It might suit Alex Salmond to back off over these proposals to show he is listening. And perhaps the MCofS Manifesto will give him the peg to hang his coat on.

      Either way - we should all get behind the MCofS and back them to the hilt.

  4. News in the Telegraph today could blow a whole below the waterline of the wind industry - rumours of a total cut of subsidies by 2020:

    1. This, I believe, has been on the cards for a while. Certainly there have been rumblings in the press about the situation, especially at the time of the 100 dissenter MPs cropped up.

      On the one hand it seems a move forward. On the other hand, it is simply procrastination. In 8 years time this Governmental shower will be history long since, thus giving the new shower plenty of chance to resurrect the folly before all the investors/freeloaders have completely pulled out.

      Strong, decisive action from the Government NOW would at least allow history to record they made one good decision during their tenure.

    2. As soon as the energy businesses realise that the subsidies are going, they'll cut & run on the new projects, leaving us with the problem of binding contracts for the existing windfarms and paying for them for twenty five years.

  5. As I said Alan, I doubt that the Ben Wyvis proposal will be approved. Alex Salmond might think that a step too far and I hope that's the case for Allt Duine too. Of course we should all get behind the MCofS and do what we can to stop, as you so aptly put it, this 'creeping tragedy being played out..". I'm just not optimistic.

    1. Well - we shall just have to carry on fighting and carry on getting the message out there about the ruinous economics and the damage to the wild.

      More people understand these issues now than a year or so ago. The message should still be pumped out to get people to understand.

    2. Unfortunately a meeting last week with the planning Officer and a local Councillor left me with the impression that they support the Clach Liath(Ben Wyvis)wind farm. The first Section 36 application in four/six years was refused at Spittal but in that case some 30 homes were within 864 metres ans SNH were strong objectors. Every effort must be made to stop this wind farm. Local opposition is through Ferintosh Community Council

  6. Gibson, do you remember the case of the bloke (I think he may have been a clergyman) who dismantled the Ben Wyvis information board, considering it too intrusive?

    I'd be interested to hear his thoughts on a cluster of turbines.

    1. Hi Dave. I don't recall that incident but I agree with the sentiments. I think we all know what his thoughts on turbines would be.

  7. I think the point about "if it continues this way, we won't have...." etc is central.

    There's probably a case - if you wanted to build one - for saying "whats the problem, chaps?" on the basis of what currently exists. For the second time in recent months I went down the motorway through the south/border area of Scotland and noticed the extensive array of turbines. Can they be seen from the hills? - I suspect nowhere near as much as from the M6.

    So, says politician chappy whose experience of the outdoors is no more than golf with banking buddies, rumpy pumpy with an occasional mistress in a Home Counties field, or a rural pub lunch with a well paying journalist seeking an illegal scoop - what's the problem?

    The problem is one of trust, as much as anything. No one can trust these people and on the contrary there is plenty of evidence not to.

    They will of course come out with lots of blah blah blah about protecting the environment. They won't dismiss our concerns, they will say yes we understand and agree with you. Then go ahead, and rape the hills with profitable steel and concrete while we sit powerless and disgusted.

    I don't actually think much can be done Alan, unless resistance has some power to it: that force of numbers, documented environmental fact, and disclosed profitable interests are put out there in the public domain and attached to individual people.

    Unfortunately, general public perception of hill walkers is probably not good: beardies, eccentrics, wool-wearing nutters is probably the general trend of it.

    Anyway, those are my rambling thoughts on the matter.

    1. It's all very well being pessimistic, James, but that won't get the situation changed, will it?

      We need to get the message out there about the ruinous economics and the damage to the wild - the loss of habitat for wildlife and the loss of amenity and how this will adversely affect tourism - a major industry in the Highlands.

    2. I don't mean to be pessimistic but rather, describe the situation as I see it. Economics, habitat and tourism sound a good plan of attack. My own objection is "romantic", you might say, in regard to the presence of these things in the hills and the eyesore which they are. But if there are more substantive aspects to this which can be quantified, measured and monitored, that would be a way forward.

    3. You're pretty nifty with a Box Brownie - Ever thought about some shots of what the turbines are doing to wild land?
      We would leap on your pictures and could show people the destruction that is being carried out in their name.
      Could you do that, James? It would be a real help.

    4. If you send me an e mail Alan - info at my web site - we can discuss that further.

    5. Hi James:
      I'll be in touch shortly. Thank you.

  8. Bit of good news. Glen Affric car park. Parking charges will not be imposed yet pending further meetings with the local community. Should they become a feature, and we have demanded ait as a voluntary feature, there will be provision for hill walkers that park for more than one day. We have objected very strongly and asked that they be removed immediately as an incongruous and alien intrusion into this NNR. FCS were reluctant as it is part of a national policy but were rather shaken at their reception. We do care so visit soon before they change their minds!

    1. Happily, the MCofS has also been very active fighting these car parking charges too.

      Folk should be actively encouraged to get out to these places and go for a walk. Forcing people to pay to park is a dreadful retrograde step.

  9. As soon as I read the manifesto on Saturday I emailed David Gibson, Chief Officer of the MCofS, to offer my help in any small way I could. (turns out he's on holiday until July)

    I will now email it to my local MSP. Other than that I don't know what else I can do. I can plan an offensive, that might work??

    Fraser McAlister has a "good" example of the ugly bastards on this blog - Following on from your request to James.

    Hope you are well, Davy

    1. Hi Davy.
      Thanks for that link to Fraser's site. It is a pretty depressing photo he has there.

      We need to get shots of what windfarms really mean in the wild places: The bulldozed tracks, the substations, the pylons, the damaged water courses. A video's always handy showing the sheer size of these things up close.

      We need to get them on Facebook and twitter so that people can see the scale of the destruction. DM the pictures to the politicians.

  10. I have to admit to quite liking wind turbines, but only in specific places. Those places do not include the tops and sides of mountains.

    I was in the Ochills recently in thick cloud. As I reached the top of Ben Cluech, a turbine appeared about the cloud and spooked me completely. It was a very unpleasant experience.

    There is a couple of small turbines in our town, and I fully support plans for turbines in built up areas such as the central belt. They are localised power stations and should be built locally where the power.

    I have no problem with an island building a community wind turbine that supplies all their electricity. Unfortunately, what we mostly have is land owners seeing another cash cow on their land.

    Scotland should be looking at offshore and tidal for renewables.

    1. Getting behind Oliver Letwin & George Osborn will help get rid of wind farms. By cutting subsidies to the wind industry the incentives to the landowners to industrialise their land will diminish and make it less attractive for them.

      Off shore wind is even more expensive for the consumer than onshore wind and will push more and more people into fuel poverty.

  11. Alan,it is interesting to contrast the Scottish situation with the decision that Lincolnshire County Council has taken on wind turbines. I live 5 minutes from the Lincolnshire Wolds an AONB. LCC seems to be listening to rural people. See
    Perhaps there is hope that the tide may be turning in certain areas of the country.

    1. Mark
      Thank you for that link.
      This is tremendous! The county council are effectively saying "Shove it!" to the wind power stations.

      I love the conditions they place on the developers - ie removing even the concrete bases and roads at the end of the wind farm life.

      This is a shining example. Other County councils should follow suit!

  12. The John Muir Trust has now come out against the Ben Wyvis proposals as well:


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