Writing exclusively for the Press and Journal, the chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland, Kate Mavor, outlines the NTS’s reasons for joining the fight against the Stronelairg windfarm.
“As many readers will know, the National Trust for Scotland is backing the John Muir Trust’s legal challenge to the Stronelairg windfarm.
“We are not in principle opposed to renewable energy generally, nor to wind power specifically. As a conservation charity we are supportive of any action that can contribute towards tackling climate change and saving delicate ecosystems.
“We have always striven to encourage policy-makers and developers to strike a balance between providing renewable energy infrastructure and conserving valuable and unique landscapes. We support renewable projects so long as every effort has been made to achieve this balance.
“Like everyone in Scotland, we need assurance that there is a fair process in place to consider each development proposal in detail. Indeed, we are considering renewable energy schemes ourselves and applying the same kinds of tests of appropriateness, proportionality and environmental impact we expect of others.
“Why then are we so concerned about Stronelairg? There are four main reasons:
“1 – The scheme cannot be described as ‘proportionate’ given its scale and visibility from a very wide area. Stronelaig dwarfs virtually every other development in comparable locations: the visual and ecological impact of 67 turbines up to 440ft in height over an area comparable to the city of Inverness will be devastating.
“2 – We are justifiably worried that the turbines and associated access roads and tracks will cause serious and irreparable damage to peatland eco-systems – the latter act as a ‘sink’ for storing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. The Monadhliath Mountains support one of Europe’s most extensive tracts of upland blanket bog which locks in up to 20 times as much carbon per acre as the average British woodland.
“3 – The Scottish Government has pledged to protect wild land and yet in this instance has ignored the expert advice and objections of its own agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, as well as the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
“It has been customary when these agencies lodge objections in such circumstances to trigger a public local inquiry. The Scottish Government’s refusal to do this calls into question the sincerity of their pledge and the fitness for purpose of the safeguards to protect wild land.
“4 – Our anxieties about the effectiveness of wild land protection are exacerbated by the John Muir Trust’s discovery, following a Freedom of Information request, that the Scottish Government caused Scottish Natural Heritage to have Stronelairg removed from the draft Wild Land Areas Map.
“Had SNH’s recommendation stood the outcome of the Stronelairg decision may well have been entirely different. Our confidence that the national system to protect wild land is ‘functional and fair’ can only be shaken.
“It is difficult for charities to muster the time and resources needed to challenge well-funded interests; Scotland’s natural heritage deserves more in-depth lines of defence. Whatever the outcome in the Court of Session regarding Stronelairg, we must ensure that future onshore wind farm applications are treated fairly and robustly through processes that cannot be circumvented for the sake of expediency.”