MSPs urged to protect dark sky from wind turbines

Scottish Ministers have been urged to use planning policy to protect a dark sky park which astronomers and land charities say is being threatened by applications for wind turbines.
Campaigners see wind turbines as a threat to the dark sky park. Picture: Allan MilliganCampaigners see wind turbines as a threat to the dark sky park. Picture: Allan Milligan
Campaigners see wind turbines as a threat to the dark sky park. Picture: Allan Milligan

Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park was officially opened by First Minister Alex Salmond in October last year.

But the dark skies that made the park possible are now being threatened by applications from developers and energy firms, according to the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, the John Muir Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group.

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In an open letter to the Scottish Government, they have asked for an update to planning policy to rule out the construction of wind farms near the dark sky park.

Mark Gibson, chairman of the board of trustees of the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, said there are currently nine separate sets of proposals for turbines at various stages of planning within sight of the park’s observatory.

Mr Gibson said that, while some planning applications had been rejected, there are fears that if even one is approved, it could open the door for further development.

Ministry of Defence and Aviation Authority safety requirements mean that wind turbines must be illuminated by infra-red light and, in some areas used regularly for training or search and rescue, visible light illumination may also be required.

Turbines near the park could fall into the latter category, and would affect both the ability of astronomers to use sensitive equipment, and the current visibility of stars, galaxies, comets and Northern Lights.

The park is home to the only publicly accessible, research-grade observatory within a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park in the world. The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory estimates that it will attract 100,000 visitors each year within five years of being established.

Professor John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, said: “Installing any large structures that require illumination, whether visible or infra-red, would be akin to putting a factory in Glen Coe or electricity pylons along the Cuillin Ridge.

“Our First Minister was instrumental in helping to secure funding for the observatory and he opened it with much passion and aplomb in October last, praising Scotland for leading the world with this fine public and educational facility.

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“But Mr Salmond is also an ardent advocate of wind farms and so faces a dilemma.

“I, for one, would call upon him now to prove his sincere interest in our wild lands and skies by ensuring wind farms and other dark sky contaminants are excluded from the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government consulted on the draft Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) earlier this year.

“It included proposals to guide local authorities in the preparation of spatial frameworks for wind energy development.

“We received a large number of responses to the consultation and will take these responses into account when we publish the finalised SPP next year.”