Windfarms in Scottish mountain areas are a contentious subject. Photo: Wilfried Klöpping CC-BY-3.0

Windfarms in Scottish mountain areas are a contentious subject. Photo: Wilfried Klöpping [CC-3.0]

A new report by Mountaineering Scotland challenges assertions that windfarms don’t affect tourism.

While most of the developments don’t put off visitors, in vulnerable wild upland areas the effect is significant.

The report, by the organisation’s former director for landscape and planning Dr Dave Gordon, attacks misleading use of evidence which takes examples where windfarms have no effect and applies them to areas where a very significant effect is likely.

Dr Gordon said: “It’s like arguing that smoking isn’t harmful by examining only the health of non-smokers.”

Dr Gordon said he was frustrated at previous reports written to prove a point rather than give an accurate picture. He said: “Proponents of windfarms would have us believe that tourism impacts are negligible. Opponents would have us believe that the destruction of tourism in Scotland is nigh.

“Neither position is at all tenable.”

Mountaineering Scotland, which has 14,000 members and represents hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers north of the border, said it is not anti-windfarm, but objects to the building of these developments in mountain areas where they have a large visual impact.

Dr Gordon said his concern is that areas essential to landscape-centred tourism will suffer if the evidence from less vulnerable areas is misused to justify development in more sensitive landscapes.

“It’s quite true that the evidence is that most windfarms have no measurable effect on tourism,” he said. “This is the evidence that windfarm developers emphasise when arguing for new developments.

“But there are situations where windfarms would affect tourism – where the tourist economy is dependent on unspoilt landscapes and a sense of wildness and open space. These are often also economically vulnerable areas where any impact on tourism could be locally substantial.

“The areas where we have some data for the effect of windfarms on tourism tend to be those where windfarms have been consented precisely because they are not held to be a threat to the landscape. Half of all onshore windfarm planning applications are refused or withdrawn, with visual impact often given as a reason for refusal.

“Mountaineering Scotland has objected to under five per cent of windfarm applications, which have been in areas where mountain landscape is a prime attraction.

“Most windfarms Mountaineering Scotland has objected to on the grounds of mountaineering tourism impact have been refused or withdrawn. Only eight have been consented, and only two were operational by the end of 2016.

“Where applications have been refused or the windfarms not yet built, there can be no evidence of an effect on tourism, but it would be totally wrong to use this as justification for a wind farm in the wrong place.

“My real fear is that developers and their proponents cite research reports which use evidence from non-sensitive areas to claim that windfarms will have no effect on tourism in areas which may be very sensitive indeed.

“In essence, that research doesn’t prove anything of relevance to those sensitive areas.”

The full report can be read on the Mountaineering Scotland website.