Windfarms have become the new Galloway buzzword. Nowhere else in Scotland has attracted such a huge amount of attention from the wind developers, and over the past ten years on the Chayne, over a dozen different companies have expressed their interest in one capacity or another. The various development reps have not exactly covered themselves in glory during that time, and the individuals involved have ranged from the absurd to the bizarre.
We’ve been to meetings with fat-bottomed hoorays in mustard coloured corduroy trousers who advised us to take the money and run. We’ve been poked, badgered and prodded by black suited corporate types who think that massive financial pay-offs are the key to unlocking any door, and we’ve even had spotty-faced “dress-down” graduates who have quietly mumbled about the philosophical imperatives of climate change. We’ve seen it all, and the overall impression was that wind development (particularly in its early days) had nothing to offer the countryside beyond theoretical idealism and stacks of money. We’ve seen the kind of culture-clashes between bird surveyors and hill shepherds that wouldn’t have been out of place in the context of Columbus landing in the New World, and the result has been frustrating, extraordinary and (above all) fascinating.
I think Dumfries and Galloway is fast approaching a saturation point for wind farms, but my reservations are only moderate. Great herds of whirling turbines are not my idea of beauty, but some of the anti-development groups roll their eyes with fury every time they see a turbine blade. They argue that each new turbine (I like calling them “windmills” – developers just can’t resist correcting me) is another nail in the coffin for “nature”, and that these developments are ruining a pristine wilderness.
From my perspective, the impact of turbines is immeasurably less devastating than the real damage caused when Dumfries and Galloway was planted with commercial woodland forty years ago. During a few short decades, foresters caused incalculable, irreparable damage to hundreds of thousands of acres of our uplands, turning the hills into forests overnight without a second thought to the consequences. So blindly focused were they on the production of timber that nothing escaped their ploughs, and in the light of all the decline that has taken place since, arguing about a few wind turbines seems like rather small fry. In a very real sense, the “wild Galloway” horse bolted years ago.
The impact of wind turbines is little understood in the long term, but I am quite convinced that it is less harmful than the brutal conversion of moorland into forest. Besides, to mitigate the damage caused by wind development, huge amounts of money go to local landowners and communities, and funds are established to manage habitats so that biodiversity is retained and enhanced. The Forestry Commission were not obliged to spend a penny on mitigation when they devastated the uplands in a far more permanent, graphic way, and that absence is almost perverse by comparison. Imagine the uproar and fury from conservation groups if wind farms extirpated black grouse from an entire county – but the foresters did it twenty years ago and nobody batted an eyelid.
Quiet, uncomplaining Dumfries and Galloway has again become the dumping ground for a new “revolutionary” land-use fad, but as the horizons crowd over with whirling turbine blades, it is reassuring to think that they will all be pulled down or replaced in twenty years time. The damage caused by planting is immeasurably more harmful and will never be undone.
I am not a natural fan of wind development, but it appeals to me because it can be integrated into other land uses – it can complement and improve what we already have. By comparison, forestry tends to compete with other land uses until it dominates them on a tidal bore of public money. More turbines are due to appear across the Galloway Hills over the coming years, and I welcome them if for no other reason than that they represent the lesser of two evils.