The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Our beautiful hills & glens – industrialised by foreign profiteers
DAILY as I walk about the farm and climb to the hill ground where the cattle are wintering, I look across the glen to the hills beyond and wonder whether I could ever tire of everything I see. On fine days, I like to cycle up the glen. I am struck by how many other cyclists have discovered the area. Lockdown hasn’t presented much in the way of opportunity for people, but it has enabled us to connect more with the outdoors.
Yet for many in my area – the hills and glens of Dumfriesshire – these new-found opportunities have made us acutely aware of a growing threat. For what was once unspoilt countryside is becoming overwhelmed by what appears to be the unstoppable march of giant wind turbines – some 700ft high.
Instead of open hills, there is a rash of industrial development spreading over them. In South-West Scotland we are reaching saturation point and all over the country, from the Borders to the North, the message is the same.
That is why we have set up Save Our Hills, a campaign group which will fight development locally and nationally.
We won’t just appeal for change at local authority level – this battle will be taken all the way to the top. In short, the Scottish Government must change its policy on renewable energy and do so as a matter of urgency.
Save Our Hills is not against renewable energy. In a balanced energy production system, onshore wind farms have an important role to play.
But it is not a role to be played whatever the price to local communities or Scotland as a whole.
In and around Dumfriesshire, the fragile economy depends to a large extent on tourism, an economy that is being progressively wrecked by wind farms.
Whatever the developers may say about job creation, the developments do not create work locally – certainly not in the long term.
Almost invariably the developers are foreign-owned, so the profits of the developments end up abroad.
Their job is to make profits – it is their only job. Many of the landowners who agree, for a handsome reward, to development of their land are absentee investors, often never having even visited the land in question.
The sheer footfall of these turbines has become alarming. Where once there may have been an isolated wind farm, its establishment, connection to the grid and other infrastructure attracts first one and then another, so that whole areas are covered in turbines.
One of the fundamental problems is that the planning system is geared to look at each application for development in the context of what already exists, not what may follow after.
The Scottish parliament is now considering a ‘green recovery’ and welcoming input through various channels about how the country can get the economy up and running following the Covid pandemic. The Scottish Government has declared a ‘climate emergency’.
We’re all for that – Scotland has fantastic natural resources and they should be harnessed for the benefit of everyone.
But the early signs of this are extremely depressing, and there is a grave risk that this will become a one-dimensional dependency on building more and more onshore wind farms. For example, to the west of Dumfries, there are three wind farms proposed, joining on to others which already exist or have already been approved.
One by Loch Urr and another at Quantans Hill are so large that the planning application bypasses the local authority and goes straight to Ministers in Edinburgh.
There will be precious little reward for the community and no compensation for homeowners.
Nor will there be any long-term job opportunities. On the contrary, jobs in tourism will be hit.
To make matters worse, Covid and the distraction of the festive period have meant a decline in local scrutiny and community consultation. They should be setting up displays in villages and the people responsible should be talking directly to residents to justify the damage they want to cause.
Instead they have moved everything online, which is of no use to the many people in rural areas who still have a poor internet service, or no effective connection at all.
To compound things, they have set unnecessary deadlines for responses over the Christmas and New Year period, a time when they know people won’t have the head space or energy to digest the plans and submit their objections.
The SNP Government is obsessed with onshore wind farms. But Ministers must realise these huge projects are damaging other things they should care about, such as the environment, wildlife and our landscape – and the tourism which depends on it.
Community councils and campaign groups find it hard to stand up to the clout of international developers. A vehicle such as ours will help to change that.
Policy-makers hope the pandemic will lead to long-lasting changes and a shift to a greener society.
They should be focusing on approaches which cause less damage, and value Scotland over the deep pockets of energy firms.