THE iconic hills above Loch Ness could become blighted by a proliferation of more than 200 wind turbines, campaigners have warned.
Scottish & Southern Energy Renewables (SSER) is presently consulting on plans to create a wind farm with up to 130 towers on moorland at Balmacaan, near Invermoriston. It has also identified a site for another potential wind farm site in the wider area, at Stronelairg.
Developer RidgeWind also wants to build 25 turbines opposite the existing 26-turbine Millennium Wind Farm at Glenmoriston. And a further 23 turbine development is earmarked at Druim Ba, between Drumnadrochit and Kiltarlity.
Denise Davis, who is leading the campaign against the Druim Ba plans, said cumulatively the developments, all within a short distance of each other, would create a small area containing more turbines than Europe's largest wind farm at Whitelee, near Glasgow, which has 140 turbines.
She said: "If you were to tally up the numbers of turbines which may be up there, I think people would be shocked.
"If all these are permitted, it is just going to be massive."
There is also a series of projects on the other side of the loch, with a 40-turbine wind farm at Farr operational, and plans for a 33-turbine wind farm at Dunmaglass, Strathnairn, approved.
A 26-turbine scheme at Glenkirk, on the Balnespick Estate, near Tomatin, is due to be considered by the Scottish Government at a three-week public hearing, starting on 22 August at Carrbridge Village Hall, while plans for a 20-turbine wind farm on the Moy Estate have been submitted for consideration.
Last night Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland, said the combined effect of wind farms could harm Scotland's image.
The concerns come just days after Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, revealed a raft of measures at Westminster to encourage investment in wind, wave and tidal generation.
Mr Morris said: "The real problem is we are not factoring in the issue about to what extent the industrialisation of the hills affect the reputation of Scotland, and in particular the Highlands, as a place of great natural beauty.
"If we carry on developing these turbines all over the place there will come a point that it will be recognised that Scotland is a place for turbines rather than a place for natural beauty."
Pat Wells, the convener of the Stop Highland Windfarms campaign, is also worried about the impact the proposed developments could have on the area.
"I think it is another depressing example of wind farm developers and compliant land owners exploiting the precious natural environment, but also current government policy on wind power generation, which basically amounts to a licence to print money," she said.
An SSER spokeswoman said: "These plans are at a very early stage. The cumulative impact is considered as part of the planning process."