Roger Cox:

As VisitScotland’s “Year of Natural Scotland” advertising campaign draws to
a close, it’s worth reminding ourselves just how central the unspoiled
nature of our landscape has been to these lavishly funded efforts to
attract more tourists.

Stars of the various TV and web adverts released during the last 12 months
include the Isle of Rum, the Kyles of Bute, the Stacks of Duncansby, the
mountains of Torridon, the rolling hills of Dumfries and Galloway and the
white sand beaches of Arisaig. “Scotland might surprise you,” intones the
narrator at the beginning of one ad. “We have no shortage of natural beauty.”

The bespoke Year of Natural Scotland website, meanwhile, invites readers to
“Come and celebrate Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty throughout 2013.”

“Discover the fascinating variety of landscapes across Scotland,” it says,
“including mountains and hills, forests and glens, hundreds of islands, and
thousands of miles of stunning coastline.”

Funny thing is, in all the panoramic shots of breathtaking scenery in these
ads, not a single wind turbine is visible. They don’t mention them anywhere
in the promotional blurb, either. This is because VisitScotland know fine
well that tourists coming to this country, particularly from more
aggressively urbanised parts of the UK, are often looking for wild, rugged
landscapes devoid of man-made structures. People who like windmills tend to
go to Holland.

According to a 2009 study by Scottish Natural Heritage, 28 per cent of
Scotland is still “unaffected visually by any form of built development”.
That figure represents a huge asset – not just to the tourism business, but
to the mental and spiritual wellbeing of the nation. But it will become
increasingly difficult for locals and tourists alike to “uncover an
unrivalled picturesque landscape” – to use the parlance of the Scottish
Government’s official tourism agency – if that same government continues to
allow the construction of wind farms in scenic areas in pursuit of its
(very laudable) target of 100 per cent electricity from renewables by 2020.

Some proposed developments – like the Allt Duine wind farm in the
Monadhliath Mountains – have already garnered plenty of column inches as
hastily-assembled alliances of conservation charities, mountaineering
groups and wildlife-lovers try to stop them, but these people can’t be
everywhere at once, and for every monster development that hits the
headlines there are many more that nobody’s talking about. In the far
north-west, for example, the Sallachy and Glencassley wind farms, just
outside the Assynt Coigach National Scenic Area, have been given a “no
objection” approval by the Highland Council and now await rubber stamping
in Edinburgh. In Sutherland’s beautiful Flow Country, meanwhile, energy
company SSE looks likely to get the go-ahead for its Strathy South wind
farm development. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For the big
energy companies, it’s a numbers game. According to the John Muir Trust,
the Scottish Government has approved 78 of 88 major energy developments
since 2007 (including non-wind schemes like the SSE’s Coire Glas hydro
development, waved through the other week without so much as a public
enquiry). There are a further 58 major energy applications waiting for a
decision. If you want to build a wind farm in Scotland, in other words,
don’t put in one application – put in several. Odds are you’ll get at least
one accepted.

Tourism is worth £11billion a year to the Scottish economy, and provides
work for 200,000 people. Never mind all the arguments about how good for
the soul it is to go yomping in the hills – plastering some of our most
beautiful places with turbines is bad for business. If this were The
Apprentice, it’s the kind of thing that would have Lord Sugar apoplectic
with rage. “You lot have completely failed to understand the point of this
task, and that is smellin’ what’s sellin’.”

Our wild land is what’s currently sellin’ Scotland to the world; degrade it
much more, and the folks at VisitScotland will have to come up with a very
different marketing strategy.

SAS Volunteer

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