A few weeks ago we went for a walk through the Clyde Law wind farm. Clyde Law is the largest installation of wind turbines in Europe. It's the one many visitors see when they come north on the M74. There are 152 turbines covering an area of 48km2.
One of the things about wind is that everyone has made their mind up. Even the most open minded of people have an opinion. It doesn't seem to matter that most of us don't know very much about it - how and where turbines are built, the costs and savings they bring and to whom. Facts can be awkward and get in the way of opinions. Opinions are sometimes more about how we define our identity, rather than what we think and why.
Because of this, I'd recommend everyone go and take a walk through one of these installations. Whatever our assumed political affiliation, there's no better teacher than first hand experience. Whatever your views before you do, at least one thing will be clearer after.
For good or for ill, and whether you like it or not, turbines mean industrialisation. The hum of electrical generators is clearly audible across the valley floor. Metaled roads criss-cross the hillside, and large turning bays for vehicle access sit alongside the pylons. Tens of thousands of tonnes of earth have been moved. The towers themselves are 15 stories high and rising higher with each extension granted to build more. They are present in enough numbers to dominate the field of view in every direction, as far as the eye can see. This is as industrial a landscape as any inner city harbour area, shopping centre car park, retail park or breakers yard. But much, much bigger.
I'm not making a value judgement on whether you or I enjoy being there, or whether this completely mechanised landscape is good or bad, why or for whom. I'm simply stating what becomes apparent when you walk amongst these structures - there is no difference between these places and any other where concrete, steel, and machines dominate.
This might be stating the obvious for some, but maybe not for the majority. It's not easy to get to visit a turbine site for many, because they are built away from cities, out of sight and out of mind, where land is cheap. Sometimes it seems as if only landowners and mountain lovers care about industrial development in our more remote and untamed places, and only a fraction of those dare to speak about it. So, if you can't visit a turbine site right now, imagine walking through a small city without any people. Or animals. Or parks or trees. Now think of new empty cities, the size of Oxford, Eastbourne (or Manhattan Island for American readers), springing up all over the north of the country.
Now that we have had our walk, be it real or imagined, let's do the science bit.
Wind turbines are built predominantly in upland areas rich in peat. Peatlands cover around 25% of the north of the UK, are formed of slowly decomposing vegetation, and when left undisturbed and undrained for development lock in 3 billion tonnes of carbon, the equivalent of the UK's total output of greenhouse gases for the next 21 years. Peatlands also provide 70% of the UK's clean water supply. The UK has about 13% of the global total resource, making our particular version of the stuff a uniquely rare habitat. It supports hare’s tail and deer grass, bog bean, bog myrtle and bog asphodel, heath milkwort, devil’s bit scabious, nearly a 1000 sphagnum moss species, insectivorous plants such as sundews, butterworts and liverworts, raptors including merlin, golden eagle, peregrine and barn owl, smaller migrants, waders and other winged foragers like the twite, dunlin, greenshank and sandpiper, globally significant populations of golden plover and red throated diver, invertebrates like the large heath butterfly, mire pill beetle and the hairy canary fly, larger mammals like the mountain hare and red deer, and endangered populations of otter and wildcat.
Phew, that's alot of habitat.
These places are our equivalent of the rainforest - no more, no less. Not as exotic as the Amazon, maybe, but every bit as important and unique. Peatland offers similar levels of carbon sequestration, habitat for rare wildlife, and a water life support system necessary for human survival. It offers a local, nature based solution to climate change. But under development, which dries out the soil and releases the carbon, it can't provide any of these ecosystem services.
What we can do is keep petitioning those in power to stop the destruction of fragile habitats. Especially if you have never written a letter to a politican before, now is the time. Please follow this link to show your support of a new designation to protect places of high natural value.