Protest over wind farm that could kill eagles

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Plans to build Britain's highest wind farm in the Scottish Highlands between Loch Ness and the Cairngorms national park could kill up to 11 golden eagles and disrupt the rare birds' breeding patterns, opponents claim.

Plans to build Britain's highest wind farm in the Scottish Highlands between Loch Ness and the Cairngorms national park could kill up to 11 golden eagles and disrupt the rare birds' breeding patterns, opponents claim.

This weekend, campaigners living around the Dunmaglass estate south of Inverness, in the shadow of the 2,000ft Monadhliath mountains, will distribute leaflets encouraging visitors and residents to lobby the Scottish Executive for a public inquiry into the application. They say the farm would blight the remote wilderness.

The Hertfordshire-based developers, Renewable Energy Systems (RES), has applied for planning permission to erect 36 turbines over 360ft high on a site visible from Cairn Gorm in the Cairngorms national park and from the north side of Loch Ness, which is one of Scotland's most important tourist routes.

According to an environmental impact statement (EIS), commissioned by the developers, "the turbines would be visible as pale, moving, man-made vertical elements in a landscape with few obvious influences of man".

The report also admits that: "If during the life of the wind farm (assumed to be 25 years) up to nine or conceivably even 11 eagles may collide (if the worst case is assumed) then this will impact on the potential of this area as a nursery ground for future replacement breeding birds in the region. It would also impact on the potential of the Monadhliaths to hold breeding pairs in the future."

However the EIS, which also warns of a danger to other species such as red kites and wildcats, concludes the Dunmaglass development would have few significant adverse environmental effects. But the threat was enough to prompt local people to form the Stop Dunmaglass pressure group.

"The developer's own EIS spells out the risks... golden eagles will die, of that I have no doubt," said Roy Dennis, an ornithologist who is advising the group. "This power station will turn a pristine wilderness into an industrial site."

The Monadhliaths boast one of the best eagle-watching areas in Britain - the upper Findhorn valley, nicknamed Eagle Alley, which is also home to more than 120 bird and animal species from snow-bunting to ptarmigan, and including osprey, white-tailed eagle and the mountain hare.

The protesters, who claim that the Dunmaglass estate will make an estimated £9m for allowing RES to build the turbines over four square miles of mountain plateau, have been supported in their opposition by the television environmentalist David Bellamy, who has described the plans as "selling Scotland's heritage for a mess of wattage".

"If this development goes ahead it will destroy the brave heart of tourism in the Monadhliaths," said Dr Bellamy. "This rush for wind is nothing less than a betrayal of Scotland's natural heritage and the real sustainable jobs that go with it."

Ray Hunter, Scottish Windfarm Development Manager for RES, played down the threat to wildlife from the development. "Right now there is not a viable golden eagle population in the Dunmaglass area, and there has not been for 30 years," he said. "What we have said in our statement is that in an extreme case there might be 11 strikes but that is very unrealistic."

The final decision on the disputed project lies in the hands of Scottish ministers at Holyrood after the final deadline for public objections has passed on 18 April.

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