Nature enthusiasts fear that a “wildcat wonderland” will be lost forever if plans to almost double the size of a wind farm near Huntly are given the go-ahead.
Wildcat Haven campaigners appealed for Aberdeenshire Council to oppose plans for a 14-turbine extension to the existing 18-turbine Clashindarroch wind farm as elected members considered plans by Swedish energy firm Vatterfall Wind Power yesterday.
Addressing the infrastructure services committee online, campaigner and founder of Living Law, Susan Shaw, said the area was home to a third of the country’s “Highland tigers”.
She said: “The Scottish wildcat is now critically endangered and on the brink of extinction in the wild.
“The population at Clashindarroch is quite possibly its last viable foothold and with that comes an enormous responsibility for those who are making decisions about the use of that land.”
The committee was already minded to object to the extra 590ft turbines over landscape and visual impact concerns.
However Ms Shaw added: “I cannot stress enough that the wildcat is critically endangered.
“Some estimates suggest there are just 35 of these iconic animals left in the wild. It’s now classed as the most critically-endangered animal in the UK and it is, of course, an important symbol of Scotland’s heritage.
“We should have a special responsibility for it.”
The conservationists have already launched a legal bid to turn the publicly-owned land at Clashindarroch Forest into a protected site, and an online petition backing that bid has reached more than 813,000 signatures since it was created.
The group says it has evidence of 13 wildcats living on the site, but fears the proposed felling of 125 hectares of forestry there, of which 87 will be permanently lost, will destroy their habitat, if Holyrood chiefs back the development.
“This proposed development site is described by the Scottish Government’s own agency as a wildcat wonderland,” Ms Shaw added.
Vatterfall’s representative Alison Sidgwick, of SLR Consulting, attempted to allay councillors’ concerns by assuring them any impact on the appearance of the area would be “very limited” as the new turbines would sit on land lower down than the existing ones.
“There are larger areas of the existing Clashindarroch development on its own which will be visible,” she added.
“The challenge to reach net zero is a huge one and does require a fundamental rethink in the way we produce power. In order for our economy to de-carbonise it needs to move towards green energy.”
Mid Formartine councillor Paul Johnston, though in agreement with the committee’s decision to object to the plans, did echo those sentiments.
He said: “This landscape will appear completely different and may not hold anything if we get the climate emergency issues wrong.
“Whether the habitat for wild cats could even ever exist are all irrelevant if we exceed 1.5 – 2oc increase in climate temperatures.”
The existing Clashindarroch wind farm was approved in 2012 and build in 2015.
More than 100 representations have been received by the Scottish Government over the plans for its extension. A public local inquiry may be held in the near future.