This is the map of the country which lays bare for the first time the full extent of the Scottish Government’s drive to convert the nation to wind power. Scotland’s familiar rugged outline is peppered with at least 535 huge wind farms – taking up an estimated three to five per cent of the total land mass of Scotland – many of them located in areas of outstanding natural beauty and frequented by Scotland’s most iconic birds of prey.
Officials at Government quango Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) published the “wind farm footprint map” last month, quietly releasing it on their website with little or no fanfare.
However, even this crowded document does not tell the whole story as it only includes wind turbines of more than 164 feet in height – twice the height of the Falkirk Wheel – and ignores hundreds of smaller projects.
The Scottish Government agrees that we must protect our magnificent landscapes, and wants to see the right on shore wind developments in the right locations. There are 178 wind farms already installed, such as Europe’s largest at Whitelee, where 215 turbines tower over Eaglesham Moor south of Glasgow, or approved, such as the controversial Viking Wind Farm on Shetland.
However, there are 357 – almost exactly twice as many – still in the pipeline, either at the application stage or at the earlier scoping, or investigation, stage. The Clyde Wind Farm occupies 18 square miles between Biggar, in Lanarkshire, and Moffat, in Dumfries-shire, and was opened by Alex Salmond in June. However, power giant SSE Renewables is already seeking to expand it by 10 square miles. In total, the wind farm would have 209 turbines up to 465 feet high.
On the Ayrshire and Wigtownshire border a mass of existing and proposed wind farms could be the biggest cluster to date. Some estimates predict that more than 400 turbines could end up being built here on the Galloway Moors, with 18 wind farms proposed for this small corner of Scotland.
Further north, the picture is almost identical – although the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and Cairngorms National Parks represent vast swathes of turbine-free land.
On the northern bank of Loch Ness, above Glenmoriston, is the planned Bhlaraidh wind farm. Although it comprises “only” 36 turbines, it would potentially have the largest footprint of any wind farm in Scotland.
SNH has raised concerns about pollution affecting salmon and mussels in the River Moriston, and also highlighted the impact on the wild and dramatic views available to visitors to this part of the Highlands.
This area around Loch Ness also has proposals for wind farms at Druim Ba (23 turbines), Corriegarth (20), Dell (20) and Stronelairg (at 83 turbines, potentially the largest in the north).
In addition, biologist Dr David Bellamy was among the vocal critics in 2010 when ministers approved the 33-turbine project at the nearby Dunmaglass Estate in the Monadhliath hills.
To the south east of Inverness there is another rash of proposals – at Allt Duine near Aviemore (31 turbines), Glenkirk (26), Kyllachy (23), Moy (20), Tom na Clach (17) and Daviot (13).
However, perhaps the most crowded part of the map is Caithness, with around 60 wind farms proposed or operation between Scrabster and Dunbeath. In neighbouring Sutherland, the Strathy North, South and Forest wind farms comprise 131 wind turbines – all of them surrounded by land described by the RSPB as being of “international importance”.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has announced a £300,000 fund to help local authorities deal with being inundated with the massive number of wind farm applications by developers.
A fierce debate about wind farms, and Alex Salmond’s determination to turn Scotland into a wealthy exporter of renewable electricity, is already raging in many parts of the country. But not surprisingly, it appears to be particularly fierce in Caithness. If all of the proposed projects go ahead, the county would be generating around 13 times more electricity than it needs.
However, the big question asked by many is whether or not this can be successfully exported all the way to England – especially when English consumers may be able to rely on nuclear power or even shale gas. A spokesman for the John Muir Trust said the map showed that new safeguards had to be put in place to extend the protection offered by Scotland’s National Parks.
He said: “Scots have a special connection to our landscape. It is part of heritage and perhaps in danger of being destroyed by a combination of energy corporations making huge profits from subsidies, landowners making sizeable sums of money as well as governments that just want to meet targets rather than look at the overall impact of this programme.”
He added that in the current climate, where wind farms “overwhelmingly get approval”, it would be reasonable to assume most of the proposals on the map will be given the go-ahead.
Despite the detail contained in the latest version of the map, SNH said it was “impossible to say” exactly how much of Scotland’s countryside is taken up by wind farms. However, a source admitted that some opposition parties at Holyrood were very keen to find out the exact figure – which perhaps explains why it is not available.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government agrees that we must protect our magnificent landscapes, and wants to see the right onshore wind developments in the right locations. There are already a number of landscape designations which offer significant protection to our landscapes.
“We also ask local authorities to identify areas requiring significant protection in their development plans. There are no wind farms in our two National Parks, and Scotland’s planning system provides the necessary protection to ensure wind farm developments do not impact adversely upon our protected landscapes and wild land.”