An army of wind turbines is invading Britain

Blades travelling at up to 300kph are shredding huge numbers of birds around the world
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The Independent Online

At a time of uncertainty and general scratchiness, most of us can agree upon one thing at least. It is good to be green. Even those who are not overtly and politically green will probably concede that it is better to be tinged with that colour than with, say, bureaucratic, industrial grey. To be green or greenish right now indicates a perfect inner balance between a traditionalist's respect for the natural, inherited world and a modernist's concern for the future.

At a time of uncertainty and general scratchiness, most of us can agree upon one thing at least. It is good to be green. Even those who are not overtly and politically green will probably concede that it is better to be tinged with that colour than with, say, bureaucratic, industrial grey. To be green or greenish right now indicates a perfect inner balance between a traditionalist's respect for the natural, inherited world and a modernist's concern for the future.

It comes in an easy, pre-packed format, too. Biological diversity is good, GM bad. The decline of insect and bird populations is a bad thing but not as bad as those nasty Canadians clubbing seal pups in order to save stocks of cod. Renewable energy, it goes without saying, is what every civilised person in Britain should want. It is a beautiful, natural thing, like spring, daffodils, sunshine.

Wind, in particular, is our friend. There were cheers all round when New Labour committed itself to raising the country's use of renewable energy to 10 per cent by 2010. Since then, nothing has been spun more energetically than wind turbines, particularly by those who run no danger seeing them from their houses.

The trick has been to provide an opportunity for developers, all the while suggesting to local councils that these wonderful devices - a 21st-century version of windmills really - will be of benefit to their communities.

"Harleston to go green?" asked the headline in my local paper, noting that the council of a nearby town had resolved, as one councillor put it, to be "a leader in green affairs". The viability of introducing a couple of wind turbines was being considered, as were evening classes on how to install solar panels. Supporting these developments, the council leader announced, "Harleston can show itself as not being a backward, stuck-in-the-mud community."

It can be difficult to argue against all this cleanliness. Government is in favour. Greenpeace likes it. Local dignitaries are convinced that it will show the world that they are no longer stuck in the mud. The DTI is fast-tracking developments of wind farms and, in East Anglia as in most other parts of the country, business groups calling themselves "environmental planners" are grading areas according to their potential. More than 1,000 turbines and 80 sites have been established throughout Britain so far, and these numbers will have to be multiplied by five to reach the Government's target.

Against the seductive siren call of clean energy, the case of those concerned about the wider effects of wind-farms can seem backward-looking and self-interested. When the very future of Planet Earth is at stake, is it really appropriate to fret about scenery or wildlife? Should the local discomforts of those who live near turbines not be put in a global context?

But, of course, there are different kinds of pollution. At present, wind-farms are being established in Britain's wildest and most remote places. In a money-obsessed age, the arguments in opposition to them have usually revolved around the loss of tourist revenue, the decline of local businesses. Yet the invasion of giant Triffid-like constructs on mountainsides, remote islands, moorland and off the sea-shore is more than a matter of economics. The existence of those places represents a part of ourselves and the place on earth in which we live. If the views and landscapes that they offer are deemed to be less important that finding a new way of powering our TVs, then surely our national life itself is being polluted.

The turbine lobby has played down the effect that the blades of 100-metre high turbines, travelling at up to 300kph, can have upon birdlife; but it is clear that huge numbers of birds are being shredded - and in precisely the parts of the country where we can least afford to lose them. The golden eagle is under threat in the Isle of Skye and the red kite under pressure in the Cambrian Mountains, as are countless seabirds on the Isle of Lewis, in Portland Harbour and, unless the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds wins its argument against the DTI, off Teesmouth near Redcar. Citing research from elsewhere in the world - an annual 6,000 birds killed by turbines in Spain, 5,500 birds cut down by a single wind farm near San Francisco - the RSPB have objected to 27 sites and expressed concern about another 30.

Not that humans living in the vicinity are in great shape either. There is convincing research to suggest that the low-frequency noise generated by turbines causes depression, migraine, sleeplessness and headaches, affecting those who live up to a mile away. As for those in earshot - government planning guidelines allow them to be built 400 yards from houses - the experience is profoundly unpleasant. "Unbearable," a Welsh archaeologist who had formally been in favour of turbines described the noise. "A miserable, horrible experience" was the verdict of another man who lived 450 yards away from a wind farm in Truro.

Those who live at a safe distance from these devices are apt to dismiss the arguments against them as "nimbyism", but there are bigger questions. As the army of turbines marches across rural Britain, humming with clean energy, we are in danger of losing far more than we can ever gain.

terblacker@aol.com

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