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Wind farm threat to natural wonder

Peak Practice

By Cameron McNeish

I had the privilege of spending a day with two of Scotlandís finest naturalists last week. Dick Balharry and Roy Dennis took me to Coignafearn, deep in the heart of the Monadh Liath and as we travelled down the length of Strath Dearn, a long deep-cut glen known to bird enthusiasts as Eagle Alley, they told me some of the characteristics of the area.

This wild and largely inaccessible land between Loch Ness and the Cairngorms is a valuable living and breeding range for the golden eagle. The region is a candidate for European wilderness recognition and is one of the few areas left where manís hand is virtually absent. Indeed, further up the glen, by the headwaters of the River Findhorn, lies Carn na Saobhaidhe, the cairn of the foxís den, arguably the remotest Corbett in the land.

At Coignafearn Lodge we were joined by Sandy Day, the local keeper, and together we made our way up the slopes of Caimhlin Mor from where we could gaze across this vast, rolling wilderness to the mountains of the north Highlands. It was a wonderful sight.

Far and wide under the infinity of the domed sky, the land stretched away, pock-marked with lingering patches of snow. Every feature was picked out and etched by the smile of the low sun, ridge over ridge, horizon over horizon, rolling moors and shadow-stained glens, clear-cut land and glistening pools of water.

With that majestic backdrop, we were entertained by a spiralling pair of golden eagles, watched a red kite being dive-bombed by a raven and a peregrine falcon, saw a merlin and glimpsed our first wheatear of the summer.

It was clear from his voice how much this land meant to Sandy. Heís keepered here for 30 years and he explained with pride how the estateís owner, Sigrid Rausing, planned to establish a new strategy for the estateís future as the sustainable heart of the Monadh Liath, where golden eagle would breed and where the wild character and beauty of the hills would be maintained.

The tone of his voice then changed as he swept his arm across the horizon and indicated the huge scale of the proposed Dunmaglass Windfarm. Thirty-four giant turbines, each one higher than the Big Ben clock tower, could be erected at a height of 2,000ft, making it the highest wind factory in the country. Such industrialisation, in the heart of one of our wildest areas, could devastate the raptor population of this region and destroy Sigrid Rausingís Coignafearn vision.

I later returned to Strath Dearn and took a bike up the length of the glen to Dalbeg. Another track climbs above the tumbling waters of the Allt Creagach to the gentle slopes of Meall aí Phiobaire and as I strode out across its flat summit to Carn Mhic Iamhair I realised the western-most of the Dunmaglass turbines would be erected right here, less than a kilometre away from what Iíve always regarded as the remotest of all the Corbetts.

Carn na Saobhaidhe is a vast, sprawling hill which I first climbed with my friend Peter Evans as part of a cross-Scotland walk many years ago. We later spent the night in Dalbeg sipping whisky, enthralled by the wild qualities of the place. We couldnít have imagined, in our wildest nightmares, that these hills could be taken over by towering metal giants, like something from an HG Wells novel. How wrong we were.

As I lay by the small summit cairn and allowed the vastness of this wild landscape to percolate my own spirit Iím afraid I cried. I wept tears of frustration at manís arrogance and greed. I wept tears of helplessness that people like me, to whom these wild places mean everything, couldnít effectively fight the political/corporate forces that are determined to steal Scotlandís soul in the name of green energy. And I wept tears of genuine sorrow that my childrenís children wouldnít enjoy these places as I have done. I wept too for the golden eagles and red kites and ospreys and raven and geese that will be smashed to pieces by those spiralling turbine blades.

Such wanton destruction, and all for a growing industry that is patently both inefficient and uneconomic, an industry that has been created by London-based politicians who care nothing for the Highlands of Scotland and for those who love its special wild qualities. Check out the website if you will Ė to remain silent is no longer an option.

03 April 2005