ONCE AGAIN the Scottish Government has demonstrated that its policies designed to protect our natural heritage are wholly at odds with its all-consuming renewable energy targets.
Earlier this summer Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson launched a consultation on a new governmental Biodiversity Strategy designed to “engage people with the natural world” and “empower them to have a say in decisions about their environment.” In the foreword to the consultation we are assured that “biodiversity plays an essential role in meeting the Scottish Government’s vision of a smart, sustainable Scotland, and lies at the heart of our economic strategy.”
Such sentiments are worthy indeed, but only if they are backed by substance. Yet it is sheer nonsense - not to mention cheek - for a minister to be proffering such platitudes when it is also the government’s policy to imperil our treasured areas of biodiversity on an unprecedented scale because of its overriding determination to “re-industrialise Scotland” by building giant, industrial wind turbines from one end of the country to the other.
Just one of many recent cases in point can currently be found in Clackmannanshire, where developer Partnerships for Renewables (PfR) has proposed building a two-turbine farm on the site of the former Black Devon rubbish dump directly south of Alloa. The proposed site boundary is directly adjacent to the Black Devon Wetland, created by Clackmannanshire Council in Scotland’s first ever “managed retreat” project.
Wetlands are nature’s most effective flood defences, and the Clackmannanshire project was intended as a response to the threat of climate change and the possible consequent rise in sea levels. It was also tremendously successful in enriching the ecology of the local area and was later awarded a SEPA Habitat Enhancement Award. Today, it is home to a bustling ecosystem and counts roosting redshank, lapwing, swans, terns and greylag geese as frequent visitors.
If the Black Devon application is approved, the wind farm would serve as a crushing indictment of the Scottish Government’s efforts to be responsible custodians of Scotland’s biodiversity. And as far as empowering local people “to have a say in decisions about their environment” goes, what is the point if, as so often happens, contentious planning applications for wind farms get rejected at local authority level only to be called in and approved by ministers on appeal?
Whilst trumpeting their much vaunted “renewables revolution”, ministers seemingly fail to grasp that wind is not the only important environmental asset in Scotland’s possession. As the Black Devon case illustrates, they are seemingly blind to the vital contribution wetlands make to our health and well-being, from replenishing and purifying our groundwater to stabilising our shorelines.
In a submission to the council on the Black Devon development, SEPA in fact raised pollution concerns and pointed out that constructing these turbines on a disused landfill may increase the risk of harmful leachates escaping from the site and contaminating local watercourses.
We simply cannot afford to let this prized area come under assault by “green” energy developers; they and their white elephants should stay well and truly away.
In one sense it seems appropriate and indeed prophetic that PfR are proposing to build these turbines on a former landfill, as that is where they are likely to wind up, together with the hundreds of others dotting the Scottish countryside as the public begin to unravel the government’s disingenuous wind energy claims.
Perhaps PfR possesses a greater sense of irony than I have hitherto credited it with. More likely, they are merely taking advantage of a government that enjoys proclaiming one thing and doing quite another.
What good are strategies to protect our rural heritage without the treasured natural resources they are designed to protect?
Struan Stevenson is a Euro MP for Scotland and President of the Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development Intergroup in the European Parliament§
Photo: Stuart McMahon