||Islanders in Uprising Over Wind Farm Plan
4 September 2004
Marion MacLeod and Anne Campbell are standing on the edge of a sprawling
expanse of purple heather and peat bog, swatting at midges and trying to
describe their fears.
The turbines will be everywhere, they say, gesturing north and south. There
could be as many as 500 on three separate wind farms, and they will dominate
the largely flat landscape in every direction.
They will be up to 460ft tall -- the height of a 40-storey building -- and on
a windy day could produce nearly two per cent of Britain's power.
The two women are looking out across Barvas Moor near Stornoway, the
proposed site of by far the biggest wind farm in Europe.
To the casual observer, it looks like the ideal location. The westerly winds
blow unhindered from the Atlantic and the mountains of Harris, 25 miles to
the south, are the most striking element of a largely featureless habitat.
But the moor is protected under European law for its important wildlife and
it has a special place in the hearts of native islanders.
Its small lochs boast some of the finest brown trout fishing in Britain, it
is home to the golden eagle and the red deer, and it has been celebrated in
poetry and song.
The two women have been told that wind power will bring great economic
benefits to the island, help regenerate the economy and halt the population
But they are part of a Gaelic uprising against the national "dash to wind"
and, like many other islanders, are campaigning for the first time in their
The development of renewable energy is a major plank of the Government's
strategy to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from conventional power
stations, in order to meet its commitments on global warming.
But critics, among them eminent scientists, say the lack of a strategic
approach has created a free-for-all that could blight wild landscapes for
generations to come.
Smaller wind farms have been welcomed elsewhere, but the scale of the
development proposed for the Western Isles has shocked islanders and
Among those who regard Lewis as the right place for a wind-fired power
station is Brian Wilson, the former energy minister, who is normally a
champion of Gaelic-speaking crofters.
He has promoted community buy-outs of private estates and waged war against
absentee lairds, often through the West Highland Free Press, a newspaper
which he founded.
But native islanders claim he is now ignoring their concerns, and one
protester said his holiday home on the west coast of the island was "one of
the few places from which the turbines would not be seen".
They are particularly unhappy that "his newspaper" claimed earlier this year
that the protesters were largely middle-class incomers.
Miss MacLeod, 38, a primary school teacher, and Miss Campbell, 42, an artist
and crofter, are members of the recently formed Gaelic protest group
Mointeach gun Mhuileann, or Moors Without Turbines. Their families have
lived on Lewis and grazed their sheep on the moor for hundreds of years.
Miss Campbell said: "It is the quality of life and the beautiful environment
that has kept many people on the islands and that could be destroyed by wind
"I have never been involved in politics before, but we are not going to go
away. We will take this to the European courts if necessary.
"Our council and our politicians are not in tune with what the people feel.
We are not interested in the money we might get. It doesn't matter how much
we are offered."
One small scheme has already received approval, and the biggest project, an
application by Amec, a multi-national construction company also involved in
projects in Iraq, for 234 turbines in a 700MW development, will be
considered next. Even on its own, it would be the largest wind farm in
If it goes ahead, the power will be taken to the mainland by an underwater
cable and then by pylons across the Highlands from Ullapool -- where another
protest is under way. Sir Paul McCartney yesterday joined the mainland
campaign, which aims to stop the construction of 200 hundred pylons
Amec announced its £600 million scheme in December and says it could put £6
million a year into the local economy. A spokesman said the firm was aware
that a telephone poll found that 88 per cent of islanders in villages
affected by the proposal were against it.
He added that the company hoped to demonstrate in the next few months that
the project could regenerate the local economy and bring major benefits,
particularly in terms of jobs.