Am Bratach No. 310
August 2017

Creag Riabhach ‘a serious mistake’

I noted the article in the July edition of Am Bratach concerning Anders Holch Povlsen’s challenge of the Scottish Government’s approval of the Creag Riabhach windfarm and the John Muir Trust’s desire to have designated “wild land” given statutory protection.

I am also aware of Rob Gibson’s opinion that the term “wild land” is inappropriate and in a strict sense it is hard to argue against this view. Scotland has a very small land mass and in no way is any part of it truly wild, apart from very localised vestiges in largely inaccessible locations. Almost all of Scotland’s landscape has been modified by the action of man, after repopulation following the retreat of the last glaciers. Even much of the highest mountain land has been indirectly modified by man’s activities by displacing deer from their natural lower altitude environment and the elimination of predators.

In spite of this, the term “wild land” is useful because it clearly differentiates the landscape from lowland, intensely managed farmlands and the urban environment. It is therefore sufficiently close to being wild land. It is this character that provides the psychological, recreational and even spiritual refreshment for the human psyche. This alone makes it a very important and increasingly valuable asset, enhanced by a fascinatingly varied geology fashioned by ice and water to provide a landscape of world renown and priceless value.

I cannot speak for the John Muir Trust, but, contrary to Rob Gibson’s views, I see no evidence that the trust is opposed in any way to repopulating the Highlands, or discouraging commercial and industrial development in the designated “wild land” areas. What the trust and many people, including myself, are against is inappropriate large-scale industrial windfarm developments which dominate the landscape for many miles and destroy the very essence of the land’s enduring value. In so doing it undermines Scotland’s unique world acclaimed asset — its Highland landscape.

I appreciate that many who live in the crofting regions have an understandable concern that outsiders wish to put public recreation before economic necessity. History has not served the people of the Highlands well. They have been evicted and/or made subservient to the selfish financial and recreational interests of a few, often remote and mostly privileged, landlords. Even now the region is denied the investment in infrastructure and communications that many less populous countries, such as Norway, enjoy. What has been done has largely been funded by the EEC and that is yesterday’s story.

With this background it is understandable that many local people see a windfarm development, which essentially offers community bribes, as desirable, even although the result is entirely negative for the wider national and international community and ultimately for those who live within the landscape. At present the beauty of Scotland’s Highland landscape is also the reason that so many from all over the world come to the Highlands and drive Scotland’s largest industry, tourism.

Investment directed at improved transport and communications would facilitate development of new businesses and employment opportunities and perhaps repopulation of some of the deserted glens. As well as improving the economy of the crofting areas it would assist in rebalancing the current excessive dependency on tourism. Investment in windfarms in landscape sensitive areas not only damages the principle asset, it does nothing for the local communities, other than repeat previous exploitation.

The Creag Riabhach scheme is a serious mistake. It is driven by the selfish interests of a single landowner, an ironic repeat of earlier injustices, and astonishingly approved by the Scottish Government against all professional advice. The fact that the promoter of the Altnaharra scheme exhorted his employees, based far from the Highlands and in England, to write letters of support and that these letters influenced the Minister’s decision, is particularly frustrating. We can only hope that reason prevails and Anders Povlsen’s challenge to this scheme is successful.

14 Branziert Road North

PS I am “an outsider” since I live just south of the Highland (geological) boundary line in the small rural village of Killearn. I have family connections with Tongue, actually Coldbackie, and have been coming to Tongue for more than seventy years. I love all of the Highlands but have a particular fondness for the Kyle of Tongue and the Sutherland landscape, so I will admit to an emotional concern. I am also acutely aware of how the crofting counties have exported their talented progeny all over the world, or made disproportionate sacrifices on the battlefields of Europe and beyond. I feel strongly that these sacrifices have not been adequately compensated and am dismayed that the Scottish Government considers trashing the landscape as an appropriate solution.

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