A KEY area of tourism is being damaged as climbers across the UK are being put off returning to Scottish hills where wind farms have been built, according to a new survey.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) has called for more to be done to protect wild land after it polled almost 1000 mountaineers and hill walkers and found 68% believe parts of Scotland are now less appealing.
MSPs will today debate the long-term planning strategy for the development of Scotland's spaces.
Around two-thirds questioned by the MCofS said they had already been put off from visiting or revisiting places in Scotland.
More than 80% of respondents said there had to be protection for national parks, national scenic areas and core areas of wild land.
Two-thirds wanted buffer zones so developers would not be able to place industrial-scale wind farms around their perimeters. Meanwhile, 67% said wind farms were making Scotland as a whole a less appealing place to visit.
The MCofS says the findings come as large electricity generation and other renewables companies lobby the Scottish Government to abandon proposals for stronger planning guidelines.
David Gibson, the body's chief officer, said the survey was a warning to the Scottish Government that badly sited wind farms were a threat to Scotland's reputation as a tourism destination.
He said: "Many of the wind farms planned for Scotland's most remote and beautiful areas have yet to be built and the evidence from this, and other surveys, suggests that visitors dislike them more and more as they cease to be a novelty."
He said natural heritage tourism was worth £1.6 billion to the Scots economy and tourism and that he had written to Energy, Enterprise and Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing, asking for a meeting.
He added: "It is deeply disturbing that the renewables lobby is using all its influence to push the Scottish Government into abandoning proposals that would give some protection to one of Scotland's greatest natural assets."
Dave Turnbull, chief executive of the British Mountaineering Council, which represents climbers and hill walkers in England and Wales, said: "The away from it all feel of the Scottish mountains is one of their biggest attractions to walkers and climbers from south of the border.
"People will vote with their feet and start avoiding areas with intrusive wind farm developments."
Andrew Northcott, a climber from England, recalling a recent climb in Highland Perthshire said: "I headed up Meall nam Fuaran from Glen Quaich. It was my first walk in the Highlands for almost a year. There should have been a fabulous view towards snow-covered mountains, but someone had put a wind farm high up at 600 meters, changing the wild experience and obscuring the view."
Joss Blamire, senior policy manager for industry body Scottish Renewables, said the biggest threat to the environment was climate change, with renewable energy one of the most effective solutions. However, he said the industry knew it "doesn't mean we can or should build anywhere."
He added: "What today's survey shows is that, even within the hillwalking community, opinions about the aesthetics of wind farms are wide-ranging. In fact, some large scale projects are now attractions in their own right, from the hydro power stations in Cruachan and Pitlochry to the wind farm at Whitelee near Glasgow."
He said a study, conducted on behalf of Scottish Renewables in March last year, found 69% of those surveyed in Scotland said their decision to visit an area would not be affected if there was a wind farm there.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "There is strong public support for the development of wind power, but we agree that it is important that we have the right developments in the right places, and balance protection of our scenic and wild areas alongside the need to reduce the carbon emissions of the energy sector and help keep the lights on. Our planning policy is designed to help achieve that balance."