Panoramic footage has revealed the scale of massive wind farms which are gradually encircling Loch Ness, and which objectors have warned will destroy tourism.
Highland Council’s interactive 360-degree photomontage depicts scores of turbines already built or consented.
It was shot from the most prominent summit, the 2,294ft Meall Fuar-mhonaidh on the west side of the loch, as part of local authority evidence in its objection to a 13-turbine development planned for another nearby site – Culachy Estate, near Fort Augustus.
The fate of that planning application will be in the hands of ministers in the coming months, steered by Scottish Government inquiry reporter, Robert Seaton, who heard the arguments for and against.
Veteran objectors are horrified by the emerging cumulative picture of wind farms enveloping the skyline.
While the proposed Culachy scheme would be largely screened from Fort Augustus, views from higher ground on the north side of the Great Glen would be significantly affected, according to senior council planner David Mudie, who focused at the inquiry on tourist routes.
Helen McDade of the conservation charity the John Muir Trust welcomed the council’s use of technology to accurately demonstrate the impact of giant turbines on the landscape.
She said: “Wind farm applications involve thousands of pages of technical information which is impossible for the public to analyse.
“Moving panoramas are a great tool for allowing people to gauge the reality.
“This one brings home to people how much development has happened and is planned for the Loch Ness area and the Great Glen. The council should be commended for producing this thought-provoking image.”
Dave Gordon of Mountaineering Scotland, who also gave evidence at the Culachy inquiry, added: “The panorama gives a realistic impression of the cumulative impact.
“Very soon, stravaiging (walking about) in this area will be unpleasantly punctuated by reminders that remoteness and wildness are fast becoming an illusion.”
Jim Treasurer, Friends of the Great Glen Environmental Group said: “Conventional drawings do not give a good representation or actual and ecological impact of wind turbines within a living landscape, and also in respect of views from high points and hill tops in the Great Glen.
“Planning should not be confined to views solely from the A82 as other users of the countryside walkers, climbers, and tourists walk the hills around Loch Ness. The new views from Highland Council planning make it clearer to visualise the impact of these developments on landscape.
“All of the windfarms from this visualisation of Loch Ness are elevated on high plateau or hills and can be seen dominating the landscape for a 20 mile radius. Ten windfarms are seen circling a vantage point above the landscape, from Meale Fuar-mhonaidh. This imagery gives an all-round view and justifies the terminology ‘ring of steel’ near Loch Ness, and testifies that the landscape is visually blighted and dominated by excessive windfarm development.
“The views from the hills around Loch Ness are disrupted and impacted by windfarms. Do visitors to Loch Ness and the Great Glen want to see it become one large windfarm and are people happy that they are passing through one vast windfarm. The Scottish Government should be giving this major international visitor destination greater planning protection.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government insisted there were clear planning policies in place to ensure wind farms were developed in appropriate locations.
He said: “The policy provides additional protection for our national parks and national scenic areas as well as additional scrutiny of proposals in or affecting wild land areas.
“We need to pursue Scotland’s vast potential to generate power from renewable sources, but it’s equally clear we need to do this in a way that protects Scotland’s magnificent natural environment and each application is viewed in this context and based on its own merits.”
The council’s interactive montage is online at http://www.highland.gov.uk/site/custom_scripts/THC%20Panorama/Images/Culachy/tour.html