When Keith Brander’s father Donald bought an old schoolhouse in the 1960s, it was a near perfect rural scene of rolling fields, native woodlands and unspoiled views. 

Since then, four generations of the family have enjoyed long holidays at the whitewashed property; and the landscape, with its small farms, native woodlands and little sign of industry, is embedded in countless happy memories spent savouring the slow, easy pace of life. 

Since 2007, however, the view from the old schoolhouse at  Stroanfreggan in the small Dumfries and Galloway village of Carsphrain, has changed dramatically.

Along with large patches of commercial forestry are the familiar sight for many rural communities: 14 turbines, sited 4km away on Wether Hill. 

Most in the area, he says, have learned to live with those. Harder to stomach is the thought of how he and others who objected to plans for another wind farm had thought they had won their fight only for – as he puts it – “the goalposts to shift”. 

The Herald:

Having celebrated news that a planning inquiry into proposals for 17 turbines just 5km east of the village – 15 of them almost 150m tall – had convinced Scottish Government-appointed reporters of its adverse impact on the landscape, locals are now coming to terms with the fact it will, indeed, go ahead.

The reporters’ recommendation to reject the plans had waited eight months to be rubberstamped by Scottish Ministers.

Barely two weeks after new planning policies emerged with strong emphasis on permitting renewables developments, they were told to look at it again. 

READ MORE: Explained — How NPF4 changed everything for campaigners 

The draft revised National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) would eventually be adopted on 13 February, introducing a new era in planning which requires the climate crisis benefits of wind farm and renewables developments to take priority.

Against a background of new support in principle from national energy and planning policy, and despite accepting the wind farm’s adverse impacts, the reporters had little choice but to perform a u-turn and recommend approval. 

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The battle for Shepherd’s Rig was lost. 

“It feels like a kick in the teeth,” says Keith. “We had thought that the Public Inquiry was the end of the story. 

“But it seems that the goalposts have been shifted and that public consultation counts for nothing.

“This is retrospective law, which I think is indefensible. The benefits and adverse impacts of this wind farm are exactly the same as they were in their original report.

“People are pretty angry about it, but we are a tiny community of less than 200 people. There is a feeling that enough is enough.”

The Herald: Shepherds Rig from Stroanfreggan Fort

Shepherd’s Rig Project Director Richard Frost insists: “Shepherds’ Rig is a well-sited and designed project which will contribute to Scotland’s efforts to abate climate change and provide an opportunity for the local community and businesses to benefit further from onshore wind development.” 

Yet its location within a forest plantation 5km east of Carsphrain, bordered by open moorland, rolling hills, the Water of Ken River and its long valley, has unsettled many since it was submitted by SETT Wind Development Limited, part of Canadian renewables giant Boralex, in 2018.

One of the strongest objections came from Mountaineering Scotland.

It warned of the “substantial, adverse and significant” impact, arguing it would deter from the unspoiled beauty of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn, the Rhins of Kells and the upper Glenkens basin.

“The effect on the Southern Upland Way would be to further reinforce the feeling that this is the Southern Wind Farm Way,” it said, warning hillwalkers might opt instead to travel to the Lake District, Northumberland, and the Yorkshire Dales. 

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Carsphairn Community Council, meanwhile, spoke of the “enormous detrimental effect on the residents of this rural parish" while there are fears too for the recently acquired community woodland, where there are plans for a community hub for outdoor volunteering, activities and skills development.

Dumfries and Galloway Council also objected, describing it as “an ill-conceived scheme which represents inappropriate development in a sensitive location" which would “not respect the special qualities of the Galloway Hills Regional Scenic Area.”

But the most emotional comments came from locals, who warned of fearing becoming surrounded by either existing or planned windfarms. 

“We have watched the flora changing and the fauna disappearing,” said one. “The salmon have gone from the River Ken because of the hydro scheme, the trout are disappearing because of the forestry drainage. 

“We barely hear the black or the red grouse, or watch the short-eared owl hunting. 

“We have lived here long enough to learn that all those little ‘insignificancies and negligibles’ add up to a really big problem”. 

The Herald:

Another, who has recently returned to live in the area, said they feared others would be put off by the wind farms. 

“We have far more wind turbine sites than other districts and have sacrificed countless wild places of beauty along with much wildlife and their habitats to these gargantuan kinetic generators,” they wrote.

“This area has been designated a dark skies park, a potential national park and biosphere of special interest, not to mention the countless historic sites.

“Renewable energy needs to be evenly distributed and not condensed in one place.”

At Stroanfreggan Schoolhouse, Keith says the once unblemished landscape views of the 1960s now has over 100 operational turbines in the vicinity and a further 200 in various stages of planning and commissioning. 

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“Of course, we need wind energy,” he adds, “but it has to come from a careful, equitable, strategic planning process that takes the value of public goods into account and includes generation, energy storage and distribution.

“This site is very prominent in several directions and is the last place you would think of putting turbines. 

“If that site is suitable for turbines, then everywhere is and there is nowhere that you can protect.”

But Carsphrain is not the only community to find a wind farm they thought had gone away, was set to benefit from the new NPF4 framework. 

Plans for 18-turbines within Cloich Forest near Eddleston close to Peebles, were lodged in 2012 and strongly opposed by Scottish Borders Council. 

The Herald: The view of Stroanpatrick and Stroanfreggan and Stroanfreggenfrom Culmark

It argued the 115m turbines would have a detrimental effect on the “landscape character and visual amenity’, with particular fears for the prehistoric hill fort sites of White Meldon, near the village of Lyne and Easter Dawyck Hill Fort and Settlement.

Despite opposition, the scheme received Scottish Government approval in 2016 only for its five year permission to lapse with no work starting, raising objectors’ hopes: a  new application would be needed before any work could start. 

Now the development has returned – there are five fewer turbines but they will be significantly taller, at almost 150m.

Despite its concerns, the council has conceded that NPF4 favour towards renewable energy means it has decided to ditch its opposition. 

Grant Lang, chairperson of Scotland Against Spin, says the two cases raise concerns that other wind farms which were originally rejected or stalled, will now be revived, expanded and eased through. 

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He said: “The new national planning framework gives carte blanche to wind farm developments, and the Scottish Government has thrown the doors wide open for development. 

“People pour their heart and soul into preparing their objections and are put through the wringer, then see a refusal turned into a permission.”

While cash-strapped councils may see little point in pouring time and effort into objections and attending planning inquiries. 

“There will be developers who will see this is a weak link in a chain and they will have another go at getting their proposal through.”

A spokesperson for Dumfries & Galloway Council said it is still considering the decision notice on Shepherd’s Rig.

They said: “However, it is clear the adoption of a new Scottish Government document, National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), in February 2023 has had a significant bearing in this decision.”

The Herald:

Meanwhile, the wind farm developers point to local benefits: construction will generate £16.8 million and the equivalent of 150 job years, and a further £2.3 million and 43 job years during its 25 year operation.

There will also be £351,000 of community benefit each year. 

And there are locals who are delighted at the unexpected turn of events. 

Amy Clark Kennedy lives in the Carsphairn area and works in the renewable energy industry. 

She said: “Our family also farms in the area and see windfarm developments as a positive, often allowing diversification whilst enabling traditional farming to continue, unlike the commercial forestry planting which is also becoming a common sight.

“Rural economics are changing day to day, the old traditional ways are difficult to sustain, in fact there is a view that hill farming will be a thing of the past in not many years, which would be a travesty. 

“If we can survive whilst also contributing to Net Zero targets then we are happy with that.”

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Community benefit funds are another positive, she adds. 

“We are able to offer a well-equipped and maintained village hall, free for local groups to use - because of the community benefit funding. 

“A lot of amenities in the area are funded through the community benefit fund. 

“Not all people in these communities are against windfarm developments, they just may be quieter than those who are anti them.”