THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FLOW COUNTRY
When Nicola Sturgeon rages that any attempt to stop Indyref2 would be anti-democratic, she should look in the mirror. The SNP government has repeatedly waved through ministerial approval for major windfarm developments that have been rejected by local councils. The latest looming illustration of this determined effort to overrule local democracy involves the bid to construct a windfarm at Strathy Wood in Sutherland. The proposal by the German multinational energy company RWE to erect 13 giant, industrial turbines, each 180 metres high to blade tip, has come under fire from local objectors and has been refused planning approval by Highland Council. The SNP government passed legislation enabling it to call-in applications for windfarms that have an installed capacity greater than 50 mw. The Strathy Wood windfarm will be 62.4 mw, so local democracy is instantly frustrated and the final decision will be taken by Nicola Sturgeon’s ministers. We can be pretty sure what that decision will be.
The Strathy Wood windfarm will be constructed between SSE’s 33-turbine Strathy North windfarm, which is already up and running and its 39-turbine Strathy South windfarm, which has been given planning consent following a public inquiry. However, SSE now wants to increase the tip height of the gigantic industrial turbines at Strathy South, from 135m to 200m. If the Scottish government approves Strathy Wood, the area will be dissected by a wall of steel, each turbine adorned with twinkling aviation warning lights. Objections have been lodged by the RSPB, the John Muir Trust and Wildland Ltd, the nature conservation company funded by Danish billionaire landowner Anders Povlsen. Objectors fear that approval for Strathy Wood, together with the increased height of the Strathy South turbines, will overwhelm and tarnish the Flow Country. Brenda Herrick of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum says “The whole thing is a nightmare, but sadly the Government does not care that it is progressively destroying Sutherland and Caithness, as well as much of the Highlands and other once beautiful areas of Scotland.”
Brenda Herrick has a point. The SNP government’s obsession with windfarms goes back a long way. It seems that nowhere in our pristine landscape is safe from the avaricious attention of the industrial wind developers. From Shetland to Lewis, from Dava Moor on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park to the shores of Loch Ness, from the beautiful Scottish Borders to the unspoiled Ayrshire coast, nothing is sacred. Scotland now bristles with giant turbines, most of which were built overseas and most of which are erected by foreign-owned energy companies. Worse still, we are digging up peat bogs all across Scotland to construct industrial wind developments. Peatland is Europe's equivalent of rainforest and it constitutes a vital component of the world’s natural air conditioning system. Peatland and wetland ecosystems accumulate plant material and rotting trees under saturated conditions to form layers of peat soil up to 20 meters thick – storing on average 10 times more carbon per hectare than other ecosystems. But vast areas of carbon-capturing peat bogs in Scotland are being torn up to make way for so-called 'green' energy projects like windfarms, releasing millennia of stored CO2 into the atmosphere and rendering the whole process carbon-negative.
Now, for some perverse reason, the SNP government and their Green marionettes, seem determined to focus their malign attention on Scotland’s Flow Country in Caithness & Sutherland. The Flow Country is currently seeking to be listed alongside the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef and the Giant’s Causeway as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It passed its technical evaluation stage last year and is now the UK’s official candidate for world heritage status. It will be the first time an area of peatland has achieved such an accolade and will become a major eco-tourist magnet. But the Scottish government seems determined to throw several spanners in the works. Firstly, they have demonstrated their support for a controversial spaceport to be established on land owned by Melness crofters’ estate, at the remote A’Mhoine peninsula, near the village of Tongue on the north coast of Sutherland. The government’s own economic development agency, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, has provided an interest free loan of £675,000 to Orbex, a UK-based aerospace company and its Spanish partner Elecnor Deimos.
The spaceport proposal has proved to be highly controversial, attracting widespread protests from objectors who fear the destruction of unique peatland habitat and the threat that regular rocket launches will have to protected birds and mammals. They are afraid the project will demolish the Flow Country’s bid for UNESCO World Heritage status. The added impact of a sprawling 85 turbine series of windfarms near Strathy, involving further peat excavation, tree felling and the usual plethora of mammoth steel towers, huge blades, aviation lamps, vast concrete foundations, quarries, borrow pits, drains, 'floating' roads, overhead power-lines and pylons, will certainly end the UNESCO heritage bid. The twin-track onslaught of turbines and rockets, in such an area of international environmental importance, will seriously undermine Scotland’s eco- credentials as it hosts the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, in November.
Objectors to the Strathy Wood windfarm have said that the impact on the landscape would be significant. Ian Kelly, the planning consultant employed by Wildland, says the view from Ben Kilbreck would be “one of looking across to a sea of turbines,” while from Forsinard – in the heart of the Flow Country – it would look like an extended line of turbines “straggling along the skyline”. He added that people travelling on the A836 at Strathy – part of the famous North Coast 500 – would be confronted with a “complete cumulative visual confusion. Such a wall of turbines would be unprecedented in the Highlands,” Mr Kelly concluded.
The Scottish Government and their Green collaborators must think again. The windfarm blitzkrieg invading our country with industrial structures of concrete and steel, all for a small, intermittent trickle of electricity at vast cost to the consumer, should stop before our landscape is completely destroyed. We should be proud of the Flow Country. Protecting this incredible environment for future generations and achieving UNESCO World Heritage status is far more important than turbines and rockets.