CONSERVATIONISTS have raised concerns wind farms are rapidly shrinking the countryside after it emerged that the custodian of Scotland’s natural environment has not published details of the extent of wild land for four years.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) data revealed the proportion of Scottish land which could be counted as being “without visual influence of built development” dropped from 41% in 2002 to 28% in 2009 before a host of new wind farms schemes were brought in.
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SNH blamed the decline mainly on wind turbines, and concern is now mounting that there has been no further tracking of the proliferation of wind turbines.
Conservationists fear the Scottish Government agency is being lent on as ministers go all out to hit the country’s ambitious renewables targets.
SNH warned in the 2011 memo: “Wind farms are being built rapidly in relation to other forms of development and they are highly visible due to their locations.”
They are also convinced even more of Scotland’s rugged mountainsides and picturesque scenery has been consumed by the wind farms that have come into operation over the past four years.
Wild land conservation charity the John Muir Trust said it was “concerned” the tracking had not been done and “this precious Scottish asset” was at “huge risk of disappearing” in the meantime.
The charity described a risk of “fiddling while Rome burns” as the Scottish Government discusses a new statutory designation for “wild land”.
On Tuesday, Andrew Thin, chairman of the John Muir Trust, and Ian Jardine, chief executive of SNH, are expected to be quizzed about the progress they have made on mapping Scotland’s wild land at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.
On the same day, anti-wind farm campaigners will take their concerns to Scottish Government ministers in a face-to-face meeting armed with a 4500-signature petition.
A study carried out by the trust and Leeds Wildland Research Institute shows that only about one third of the top 10% wildest land in the UK, most of which is in Scotland, is protected through a National Scenic Areas designation, which protects land of outstanding scenic value. And only about 6% has National Park status, which provides even more conservation protection.
“Without a proper framework to protect what remains, wild land will continue to be eroded by as yet unforeseen developments,” the trust warned.
The trust has raised concerns with ministers that wild land has not always been given due weight by planning officers, which they say is contrary to its status as an asset of national importance under existing planning policies.
“The Scottish Government needs to address this issue as a matter of urgency,” the trust said.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government provides clear guidance on the location of wind turbine developments to ensure that our natural environment is protected and developments only go ahead in the right places.
“Scotland has huge clean green energy resources and many communities in Scotland now benefit financially from the renewable energy resources in their area.”