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Michael McCarthy
Environment Editor
Forestry Commission accused of
Betraying its Responsibility by
allowing Windfarms on its Hills
The Independent
1 December 2003

The Forestry Commission is betraying its responsibilities to the landscape by allowing its mountains and hills to be used for giant windfarms, countryside campaigners claim.

Britain's biggest landowner, with more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of land in England, Scotland and Wales, is involved in no fewer than 27 windfarm developments in all three countries.

In 24 cases, it is leasing the land for energy companies to site wind turbines on directly, and in the other three it is leasing land to give access to the generating sites. This is just the start, and it is likely that many more windfarms will be built on forestry land as the Government aims to provide 20 per cent of Britain's energy from renewable sources by 2020 to combat climate change.

The vast majority of the sites are in Scotland, where -- in a remarkable but hitherto little-noticed phenomenon now being termed "the scramble for wind" -- more than 400 windfarms have been proposed in two years, and nearly 200 are under consideration.

The windpower developments on commission land -- three built, one under construction, 11 in the planning stage and 12 on the drawing board -- are generally in the uplands, and typically involve siting windmills up to 300ft high on ridges or mountains where strong winds are constant.

By their nature, these developments will have an effect on the landscape -- enormous, say opponents, limited, say the developers. But for the commission to allow them at all, opponents say, is in direct conflict with its obligation to look after the countryside it owns on the public's behalf.

For the commission to refrain from planting trees on hilltops -- as it often does, to safeguard natural landscape features -- but then allow wind turbines to be planted there instead is a nonsense, they say.

A characteristic example is at Inverliever Forest in Argyll, where Scottish Power has proposed placing 22 turbines, each 93 metres (302ft) high, on the ridge that runs between Loch Awe and Loch Avich, two of Scotland's loveliest lakes. The ridge, which reaches 1,800ft, and offers vast panoramas out to the Inner Hebrides, is at the heart of the huge forest, but has been deliberately left free of trees by the commission. Scottish Power claims the visual impact of the development will be limited, but so far more than 400 objections to the scheme have been received at the district planning office of Argyll and Bute council in Oban, including letters from America, Germany and France. Many of the objectors feel the development is out of place in such an unspoiled area where tourism is a mainstay of the economy. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds fears it is a threat to local golden eagles and other rare species.

But what angers some local opponents most is the commission's role as the site provider. "The commission holds vast tracts of land of prime scenic, recreational, and ecological value," said Christine Metcalfe, who lives on the shores of Loch Avich. "It is now inflicting a damaging form of industrial development upon the very landscapes and habitats which it has a duty to conserve. Its officials have been unable to provide a convincing justification for this surrender of stewardship." The Commission replies that it has no statutory duty to protect the landscape; that the Forestry Commissioners are within their rights under the Forestry Act, 1967, to dispose of land as they see fit; and that in seeking to promote renewable energy they are following government policy.

However, it acknowledges that in the past 20 years it has tried hard to follow a sensitive landscape policy, in contrast to the unthinking blanket afforestation of the uplands with massed ranks of dark conifers which took place before the 1980s, and for which it was much criticised. Its booklet, Forest Landscape Design, proclaims that "the need, and indeed vision, of a better landscape is central to that quest of both foresters and a wider public who use and enjoy forests". A decision not to plant trees on a mountain top is a decision for the commission; but a decision to site a windfarm there is one for the planning authority, it points out.

Yet this washing of hands cuts no ice with botanist and television presenter David Bellamy. "Of course they have a duty to look after the landscape," Professor Bellamy said. "By allowing these windfarms, they are helping to spoil some of the most beautiful and recreational landscapes in Britain.

"They are betraying their responsibilities to millions of people who want to escape from the urban sprawl. Windfarms are damaging to landscapes; they contain industrial structures the height of St Paul's cathedral which destroy any sense of remoteness. This is our national forest, and they're meant to be guardians of it."

  Under the Government's already unrealistic insistance on "renewable" energy, engineers predicted that nationwide there could be extremely serious shortages of electricity. The country would be forced into reliance upon power supplies from abroad. But the Government, determined to play pander-politics by switching off Britain's nuclear power stations without first developing any reliable substitutes, have now increased their target....
But why their suspiciously specific obsession? There are lies about cost (windfarms of the type being promoted are inefficient and intermittent in output which is itself far more expensive than that of either nuclear or fuel-burning systems), about subsidies (in fact, the windfarms are very heavily subsidised), claims about creating new jobs and technology (the tall-tower windfarms represent yesterday's technology bought in from foreign companies), and about the windfarms being environmentally friendly (they don't mention the massive holes in the hillsides for each concrete base, compression of the ground and interference with water-runs, destruction of wildlife habitats, harm to birds, ruination of views, distractive and potentially health-threatening flicker and shadow off the blades, countless miles of cabling to be laid, and accessing tracks cutting into land where there were none before)....
As mentioned below, there are perfectly viable alternative energy sources being denied support while the Government and allegedly "green" corporate lobbyists rig the system to pour ever more funds into one sadly holed wind-bucket.
James Reynolds
Environment Correspondent
New Energy Targets
May Mean More Wind Farms
The Scotsman
2 December 2003

Scotland could get more wind farms following new targets to increase renewable energy, boost the amount of "green electricity" and curb carbon dioxide emissions.

Stephen Timms, the Energy Minister, revealed yesterday that Britain's commitment to renewable energy would increase, with output rising by 1 per cent a year after 2010, to hit 15.4 per cent in 2015-16.

UK electricity suppliers are already required to provide a proportion of energy -- starting at 3 per cent last year and rising to 10.4 per cent by 2010 -- from sources such as wind, sunlight and wave power.

The new target was immediately backed by the Executive, which earlier this year announced an "aspirational target" to produce 40 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Mr Timms said the extension of the scheme would encourage the industry to invest in renewable technology with confidence that it has a long-term future.

However, the plan was attacked by opponents of wind farms in Scotland, who fear the irretrievable destruction of the landscape.

Speaking to the first annual meeting of the Renewables Advisory Board, Mr Timms said: "We have responded to the calls of the renewable sector to give stability beyond 2010. In giving an increased level of certainty to the renewables industry we are providing the ingredients for more confidence on the part of the investment sector."

Mr Timms acknowledged that the government faced "formidable challenges" if it was to reach its target of ensuring the UK generates 10 per cent of its electricity from such sources by 2010 and twice that by 2020.

But he added: "We must not lose sight of the rewards. As well as making a significant contribution to reducing carbon emissions, increasing the contribution of renewables offers the prospect of developing a significant UK industry, creating jobs and developing world-class companies able to compete for the growing renewables business both here and overseas."

The announcement was welcomed by environmental campaigners and the renewables energy industry.

Maf Smith, the development manager for Scottish Renewables, said: "It shows that the Executive has been listening to concerns within the renewables and finance industries that a longer-term statement was needed to reassure investors and drive forward development of new renewables.

"Now developers can press forwards [in] delivering a renewable future for Scotland, which means clean, green power and skilled new jobs in manufacture and development of projects."

The British Wind Energy Association described the new targets as "the icing on the cake of a great year for wind energy", and said they could progress into the new year with a massive boost of confidence.

Friends of the Earth described the announcement as "extremely welcome", adding that it now wanted to have challenging targets set for renewable transport fuels and renewable sources of heat.

But the campaign group Views of Scotland, which is against the proliferation of wind turbines and farms across Scotland's countryside, claimed the renewables obligations were entirely "developer driven".

A spokeswoman, Gillian Bishop, said: "Extending the Renewables Obligation is not the way forward.

"They are simply levies on users that give cash to the big players -- most of them prominent in the nuclear sector -- and divert funding away from major research and development into genuinely viable technologies such as wave, solar and tidal.

She added: "Incredibly, it is not obligatory under the Renewables Obligation to cut emissions, even though suppliers receive billions of pounds of our money to do so."

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