As the target of an unprecedented number of windfarms - both proposed and approved - the Monadhliath are at the front line in the conflict between conservation and development. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) have joined forces with leading conservation charity the John Muir Trust (JMT) to oppose a huge new wind farm here.
Energy corporation SSE - a big player in the industrialisation of the hills - wants to build 83 turbines in the Monadhliath mountains, an as-yet-unspoilt wild area that is already due to see several such developments. The proposed Stronelairg Wind Farm would cover 35 square kilometres of uplands close to Fort Augustus and the Great Glen, creating the largest wind farm yet in the north of Scotland. It would be clearly visible from many locations in the Cairngorms National Park.
'Approval of Stronelairg would prove that no part of Scotland is safe'
The MCofS and the JMT are formally objecting to the proposals, which they point out would also involve bulldozing nearly 40 miles of five-metre wide service tracks. With some wind farms already approved for development in the Monadhliath, among them the hotly contested Dunmaglass, and others such as the controversial Allt Duine currently going through the planning system, campaigners fear an overwhelming cumulative impact on the range. The long-range impact worries them too. Thanks to its prominent position between the Cairngorms and the Northwest Highlands, wind farm developments in the Monadhliath are visible from many of the wildest areas in Scotland. If all the current proposals are approved the result would be an industrialised corridor through the middle of the Highlands, it's feared.
This recent blog post from Alan Sloman maps the massive scale of wind farm development in the Monadhliath - a telling illustration of cumulative impact.
David Gibson, MCofS Chief Officer, said:
'Proposals of this kind cannot pretend to be environmentally friendly – they are about big corporations making even bigger profits by industrialising the wild lands which are vital to our natural heritage.'
'Approval of SSE's Stronelairg project would prove that no part of Scotland is safe. We are calling on ministers to show that they really do care about the Scotland's natural heritage by declaring an immediate moratorium on wind farms in the mountains.'
The MCofS has published a manifesto for the protection of our mountains which calls on the Scottish Government to implement a new national spatial planning policy that harmonises the need for clean energy with the protection of Scotland's countryside. The North East Mountain Trust, Cairngorms Campaign and Munro Society have voiced support for the manifesto.
Stuart Brooks, Chief Executive of the JMT, said:
'The rate and scale of loss of wild land in Scotland to industrialisation by wind farms is frightening, and should concern anyone who loves Scotland and its great landscapes. We've seen a huge rush of applications this year and developers are now moving into our most sensitive and precious areas.'
'In the absence of a coherent energy strategy and adequate protection for Scotland's landscapes, we are left to fight these battles on the front line at huge costs to everyone involved. These places are special because they are wild and beautiful. People's jobs, the tourist industry and our wildlife depend on them. Once we industrialise wild land we change its character forever.'