A new poll by YouGov shows more public support for the protection of wild land than for the continuing development of wind farms in wild areas, and casts doubt on claims that industrialising the countryside poses no threat to the tourism economy.
In the poll, commissioned by wild land conservation charity the John Muir Trust (JMT) and released Sunday 4 November, 2269 British adults answered a series of questions worded on the advice of respected pollsters YouGov to avoid any suggestion that they were loaded or biased.
'Existing designations are failing to protect our wild land. Time is rapidly running out'
This is the first national poll to measure the level of public support for large scale wind farms in our valuable natural landscapes, say the JMT. It is also the first poll to gauge the potential impact on tourism in areas like the Scottish Highlands, where dozens of large scale wind projects have already been built in sensitive areas, and many more are in the pipeline. Previous polls have sought only to measure general support for wind power, not more nuanced attitudes to its landscape impact. The Trust believes that it's possible to support wind power while opposing the building of turbines on important areas of wild land - and the results of the poll suggest that a large number of the general public agree.
Of those polled:
- 40% of people across the UK said that Government should prioritise protecting scenic wild land from large commercial wind farms, even if this means that there is less opportunity to develop wind power in those areas.
- 28% said the Government should prioritise building large commercial wind farms, even if this means that some are placed on scenic wild land.
Even in Scotland alone, where wind power has been heavily touted as a potential economic bonanza and the government has an unalloyed enthusiasm for them, there's a narrow lead for conservation, with 37% favouring the protection of wild land versus 30% happy to see it developed.
The poll also suggests that high concentrations of wind farms could pose a serious threat to tourism in Britain's scenic areas:
- 43% of people in Britain who visit scenic areas in the UK for their natural heritage and beauty would be 'less likely to visit a scenic area with a large concentration of wind farms'.
- Just 2% say they would be 'more likely to visit a scenic area with a large concentration of wind farms'.
Taking Scotland alone, the respective figures are 36% less likely to visit versus 2% more likely to visit.
The results cast serious doubt on First Minister Alex Salmond's recent claim that wind farms do not negatively impact Scotland's scenery, and that they actually enhance the appeal of Scotland as a country.
'The Scottish Government simply cannot afford to drive people away through its lack of leadership on this issue'
Responding to the poll, Stuart Brooks, Chief Executive of the JMT said:
'This poll confirms what we already suspected: that there is a growing groundswell of opposition to the siting of large-scale wind farms on wild land – much of which is in Scotland.'
'This sends a clear message to politicians of all parties who have supported policies to industrialise our landscapes with wind turbines double the height of the Scott Monument.'
'This is an issue that cuts across traditional party political allegiances and urban-rural divisions. The poll shows that the goal of protecting our beautiful and dramatic landscapes has widespread support across all social classes, and in almost every region of the UK. It demolishes the argument that concern over wild land is motivated by 'nimbyism'. Indeed, support for protecting wild land is shown to be strongest in one of our most urbanised regions of the UK, the West Midlands.'
'Until now, people have tried to dismiss conservation groups like the John Muir Trust as isolated voices. This poll shows that we are in tune with mainstream public opinion across the UK. We want to use this evidence to increase protection for wild land. We can do that as well as being supportive of renewable energy.'
The chairman of the JMT, John Hutchison, who lives in the Highlands added:
'Global energy corporations are exploiting the Scottish Highlands, which is widely regarded as being one of the most beautiful regions of Britain, and indeed the world.'
'This poll suggests that up to 17.5 million adults across Britain may think twice about visiting areas where the landscape is blighted by turbines. That represents a serious long-term threat to those areas whose economic lifeblood is tourism.'
And Helen McDade, Head of Policy for the JMT – who has just given evidence at a public inquiry against the planned Allt Duine wind farm in the Monadhliath (reported here on UKH) – said:
'There is now a relentless march of wind turbines into areas that most people would regard as scenic wild land.'
'The Allt Duine proposal, for example, would mean the construction of 31 turbines, each 125 metres high, which would be visible from across 100 square miles of the Cairngorms National Park.'
'Existing designations are failing to protect our wild land. Time is rapidly running out for politicians to take positive action to keep industrial wind farms out of our most precious landscapes.'
'We will be highlighting this poll to put pressure on governments in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast to bring forward measures to increase protection for wild and scenic land across the UK and prevent further losses.'
Today the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) added its voice to the JMT response.
David Gibson, MCofS Chief Officer, said:
'This research from a highly respected environmental charity, undertaken in conjunction with YouGov using a robust methodology, is very welcome but the results are unsurprising. The Scottish Government is clearly out of touch with public opinion and must wake up to the dangers we face from the industrialisation of our wild and beautiful landscapes.'
'Our national economy and many jobs in fragile communities depend heavily on the tourists who come here to enjoy our magnificent landscapes. The Scottish Government simply cannot afford to drive people away through its lack of leadership on this issue. It must take immediate action to end the blight that comes from allowing large power companies to build wind farms in unsuitable places.'