‘Wind farm-free’ zones planned for Scotland

LARGE swathes of wilderness will be protected from unsightly wind farms under plans being drawn up by the Scottish Government.

The proposals are aimed at protecting some of the most remote and beautiful landscapes from development by energy companies.

The new guidance will include maps, drawn up by Scottish Natural Heritage, which will designate about 28 per cent of the country’s landscape as wild land and make it more difficult to secure permission for wind farms.

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The SNP government wants to create a green energy revolution in Scotland and wind farms have been at the heart of the initiative. Alex Salmond has said the country’s vast wind levels could help to generate all its electricity needs by the end of the decade.

But residents of rural areas, such as Galloway and Argyll, insist large areas of natural beauty are being scarred by the massive turbines.

Campaign groups yesterday welcomed the prospect of greater protection for remote areas. One of the country’s most prominent hillwalking and climbing experts, Cameron McNeish, himself an SNP member, has met the First Minister several times in recent months to discuss his concern over the flood of applications from energy firms.

“He’s been very open to listening to these arguments,” Mr McNeish said yesterday. “Myself and people like me are in full sympathy with the Scottish Government’s ambitions in terms of renewable energy, particularly marine renewable energy.

“But we feel there has to be some way we can stop this mad speculation by developers who want to build wind farms anywhere on the basis that a lot of these wild land areas are quite a precious, natural resource. One of the ideas we looked at was having turbine-free areas. The last time I talked to him we talked about that as a poss­ibility, but nothing had been cast in stone.”

New planning guidelines are expected to emerge this month in the revised Scottish Planning Policy and the national Planning Framework, which are being put out to consultation.

The areas identified by SNH are largely in the north and west Highlands. Planning guidance is being prepared for local councils, stating that wind-farm applications should not be approved except in special cases.

The heritage body says it won’t mean a guarantee against development, but an approved map of wild land would effectively identify a “precious national resource”.

SNH policy manager Brendan Turvey said turbine applications would still need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

“What we are saying is that wild land is important and sensitive to wind farms,” he said.

“Wild land means there isn’t much there in terms of human artefacts. It may be possible to conceal a small hydro scheme without affecting the wild land resource, but a large wind farm might be a different matter.”

The John Muir Trust has long campaigned to safeguard the wildest landscapes from industrial-scale wind developments and has a petition currently going through Holyrood calling for “wild land protection”.

Chief executive Stuart Brooks said: “Scotland’s wild land is famed across the world and is an important part of our cultural heritage and national identity, yet it has been disappearing at an alarming rate in recent years.”

The Scottish Government says the consultation would allow ministers to hear a “full range of views” on how wild land should be protected by the planning system.