Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Living with the enemy......

There is much publicity - and rightly so about the proposed wind power stations in the most beautiful and scenic parts of Scotland. Last years I had the privilege of taking part in Alan Sloman's 'Wake for the Wild' protest which opined the death of Scotland's wild land due to the proliferation of wind power stations. It took place on Dunmaglass estate which is beautiful (or it was beautiful last time I looked - that will change) and part of Alan's motivation was that Dunmaglass is bang on the route that he has taken on one of his many The Great Outdoors Challenges. Dunmaglass had a special place in his heart.

Over the years, Alan watched as more and more wind power stations appeared in the scenery that he loved and then when consent was given for Dunmaglass it was the last straw and he felt the need to make a high profile protest and he succeeded. Ultimately though and he knew this at the time, it was too late. Dunmaglass had already been approved and so the wind power station steamroller rolls on.

A massive development at Allt Duine adjacent to the Cairngorm National Park is on the cards. There is talk today of a massive development on the slopes of Ben Wyvis - an iconic Munro north of Inverness and so it goes on. People know where the Cairngorms are, they are in the minds eye of everyone who loves the Scottish outdoors. The same people instantly know what you are talking about when you say the word Munro and everyone who comes to visit Scotland for its outstanding beauty and wild character has their own favourite spot.

There is much talk too about the visual impact of large scale developments and whether or not they will deter tourists from coming to the area and thus affect the local economy. Local newspapers are full of people who say that wind power stations don't bother them and that it wouldn't affect their enjoyment of the area. So does that make it OK? No I'm afraid it doesn't. The views of visitors to the area are crucial, but I sometimes think that campaigners miss the fact that the people who live in Scotland don't get to go home at the end of their two week holiday and forget that these turbines exist. As more turbines are built, more people will have to  live with them and their effects. They don't only get built in remote wild areas, they get built right next to peoples houses and right next to roads which are used by thousands of local people to commute.

I have the good fortune to live in a rural area about eight miles south of Elgin in Morayshire. It's not anywhere that most people would recognise as being 'iconic' or 'of outstanding natural  beauty' but it's where I live and I love living here. I look out of my window (that was designed to make the most of the view) and I see fields and a hill called Brown Muir as a backdrop.

I love watching the sunset over Brown Muir. I love watching the way the hill changes colour when the heather blooms each August. I love watching the cloud and mist roll in down the glen and I love the way that the snow fills in all of the little nooks and crannies as it falls. I walked Brown Muir a lot when I was training for the Pennine Way and it has a special place in My Heart because it's the view I see every single day of my life when I open the blinds each morning.

So the perceptive amongst you may see where this is going. In July last year, just as I was finishing walking The Pennine Way, I got word that there was a plan to build a wind power station on Brown Muir. To cut a long story very short, we protested, emailed, petitioned and did everything we could along with our neighbours to try and dissuade the developers from going ahead but last week they submitted a Section 36 application to the Scottish Government to build 19 turbines, each 125m high. They have 'consulted' locally for what it was worth with pictures of dandelions and polar bears to sway the uninitiated. They used the usual tactics of asking questions which were designed to elicit a sympathetic reply and offering 'community benefits' which are otherwise known as 'bribes'.

I occasionally encounter the local landowner at business meetings and am torn between wondering how he sleeps nights knowing that he is selling off his family's silver to line his pockets and thinking that it must be difficult to resist when large sums of money get dropped in your lap for doing not very much.

So where are we?
It's difficult to stir up much national support because we aren't a 'romantic' or 'high profile' site like Allt Duine or Ben Wyvis. There are so many other protests going on and we feel very much like a poor relation
It's difficult to get across the idea that you aren't just being a NIMBY. I don't want them in my back yard - I don't want them in anyone's backyard.
It's difficult to stir the feelings of people who aren't directly affected by them.
It's difficult to keep up momentum when we all have lives to live, businesses to run and full time jobs to go to.
It's difficult to refute the propaganda put forward by the multi million pound developers.

Moray has its fair share of wind turbines and they have crept in over the years pretty much under the radar of most local residents. Now they are here to stay do we stand much chance of stopping the building of more? The development at Brown Muir is symptomatic of the developers going for the 'easy' option that they think won't attract any large scale objections.

The Scottish Government has made it known that it wants wind power stations built to meet their targets. They bang on a lot about only allowing ones that are sensitive to the environment and taking each application on a case by case basis but they are only playing lip service to the view of anyone except the developers and landowners who stand to gain from them.

We are normal little people with normal little lives. We don't have hundreds of thousands of pounds to spend fighting this and we don't have unlimited time available to us. We need as many objections as possible to be submitted on the basis that Moray already has enough turbines in existence and in the planning stages and that the visual impact of this development on the local environment will be substantial.

In my view Alex Salmond wants this to be his shot at immortality. He wants to be remembered as the First Minister who set these targets and then met them. He will certainly be remembered.....

High above Golspie in Sutherland there is a statue of the Duke of Sutherland.

The Duke of Sutherland is generally regarded as being the architect of the Highland Clearances during which people were forcibly cleared from the land by rich landowners to make way for sheep which were far more profitable. It remains one of the most shameful chapters in Scottish history. It is not unknown for some people to show their disdain for the Duke of Sutherland's actions by walking the hill to his statue and then pissing on it.

In my view, Alex Salmond is as guilty now as the Duke of Sutherland was then of using the landscape as a cash cow and once again it's the rich landowners who stand to benefit. One day when Alex Salmond has his own statue (I have no doubt that he'll build his own if nobody else does) I will have no hesitation in going up to it and demonstrating my feelings in the most obvious way possible......

Read more about the Brown Muir proposal here.

Objections must be lodged before 20th July 2012 by the following means:
By post to:
The Scottish Government, Energy Consents Unit, 4th Floor, 5 Atlantic
Quay, 150 Broomielaw, Glasgow G2 8LU

By email to:

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Alec Salmond comes to Elgin and is confronted by anti wind power protesters from all over the north of Scotland

First minister Alex Salmond came to Elgin today with his cabinet for the last of his summer cabinet meetings outwith Edinburgh. At one of his previous meetings in Stranraer he was heckled and jeered over his policy to approve the building of large scale onshore wind power stations in some of the most scenic areas of Scotland and today he was met with similar strength of feeling. He was obviously still smarting from the Stranraer mauling because when a protester mentioned it outside the town hall, Mr Salmond growled 'so you were at Stranraer as well were you?'

I joined protesters from as far afield as Wick, Aberdeenshire and Inverness to confront Mr Salmond and voice our opposition to the proliferation of onshore wind turbines which are despoiling the Highland countryside at an alarming rate.

I had managed to get hold of the coffin that we used at Alan Sloman's 'Wake For The Wild' in May this year to represent the death of Scotland's wild land and this made for a great focal point for the TV and press crews that were there. We had been told that Alex's blood was boiling because we were there and we did wonder if he would sneak in the back door but he obviously felt that he had to come and talk to us. John Swinney joined him and as we thought, they both reiterated their position as far as their renewable energy policy was concerned. They disagreed with us that the policy was badly thought out and based on flawed science and all in all it was much as we expected: They did lots of talking and very little listening.

Outside the Town Hall we asked him about planning regulations, about the minimum distance from wind turbines to houses and about the flawed figures that say that wind turbines are 30% efficient when in  reality this figure includes offshore turbines which are 10% more efficient and so skew the figures for onshore turbines. Mr Swinney said that he objected to nuclear power on a point of principle and because of all of the problems associated with waste etc. He quickly changed the subject when I pointed out that we import a great deal of electricity from France who generate 80% of their electricity with nuclear power so just because we are closing down our nuclear stations doesn't mean that we don't use it.

I had intended to go into the public meeting and heckle, but Roy is absolutely full of a cold and was just about dead on his feet after driving an hour to Tomatin and then an hour back again first thing today to collect the coffin so we headed home and left the Q&A session to the other protesters. It will be interesting to hear what happens and whether he is given as rough a ride as he was in Stranraer - I hope so!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Protest against wind power stations at Elgin town hall Tue 6th September

On Tuesday next week, Alec Salmond who is the first minister of Scotland will be visiting Elgin for one of his Summer Cabinet meetings. There are a growing number of people who are opposed to his avowed intention to despoil Scotland's precious landscape with wind turbines in an effort to meet his renewable energy targets for Scotland.

If you are available and free at 2pm on Tuesday, meet us outside the Town Hall for a protest about his plans. He needs to see that people are prepared to make their voices heard over the clamour for a fast buck by greedy landowners and developers.

Top Hats optional.....

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The emperors new clothes.

A couple of weeks ago we had an initial meeting of locals who are concerned about plans to build up to 22 3mw wind turbines on Brown Muir which is a hill about 8 miles south of Elgin in Moray. A couple of our local councillors came along to hear what we had to say and a reporter and photographer came along from the Northern Scot which is our local weekly newspaper.

That week they did a great article about our opposition and asked readers for their opinions. The week after that they published a letter from a reader who was opposed to the proliferation of wind turbines in Scotland, and I thought that this week I would stick my ten pennorth in and submit a letter for publication.

Whenever I read letters or comment from Joe Public who is in favour of wind power, it seems to me that perhaps they are unaware of some of the facts about wind power and they have been swayed by the propaganda put out by the pro wind power lobby. Often I think they are just lazy and it's easier to support wind power than to have to give it some serious consideration and form an objective opinion. I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion but I would like people to go to the trouble of doing some investigating themselves and not just accept the governments assertion that they are doing the right thing on our behalf.

The story of the emperors new clothes always comes to mind because I think a lot of people are just standing by admiring the concept of all of this 'free' energy and saying how wonderful it is because they are either too ignorant of the facts or are too frightened to stand up and say 'stop - the pro wind power lobby are pulling the wool over our eyes' for fear of being labelled anti green, or heaven forbid pro nuclear. These days anyone who dares to mention nuclear power is treated as if he or she has suggested selling your soul to the devil. I'm not saying that nuclear is necessarily the way forward but we shouldn't pat ourselves on the back for closing all of the nuclear power stations in Scotland when we still import masses of electricity from France who use nuclear fuel to generate the vast majority of their power.

I'm impressed that there seems to be a great many more people now who are prepared to put their head above the parapet and voice concern about government policy and I'm sure that the campaigns of people like Alan Sloman have had a great deal to do with this. We need to keep up the pressure and keep the story in the news by whatever means possible and I think that it needs lots of different voices and lots of different perspectives for us to be taken seriously. It can't all be about 'Not in my back yard' - people need to realise that my back yard is their back yard and that before long, if the government have their way it will indeed be their back yard which is under threat.

Below is a copy of my letter to the Northern Scot. It remains to be seen if the publish it!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Dear Sir,

If I thought that covering Scotland’s precious wild landscape with wind turbines would solve the problem of global warming, I would welcome them with open arms. If I thought that erecting all of these wind turbines would mean that we could end our reliance on nuclear and fossil fuels and close down all of our CO2 belching power stations then I would be happy to see them plastered all over Moray and further afield in Scotland.
I’m not convinced though. None of the information or data that I’ve seen has persuaded me that it’s worth losing one of our greatest and most valuable natural resources in the rush to build.

For every 1kw of installed wind energy capacity, it is necessary to have 0.8kw of capacity from fossil fuelled or nuclear power stations as backup for when the wind doesn’t blow. For those who point out that we don’t have any nuclear power stations in Scotland I would point out that the UK as a whole imports large amounts of electricity from France who produce the majority of its power from nuclear power stations so just because we don’t have any, doesn’t mean that we don’t use nuclear power. So, we have to keep our conventional power ticking over all the time emitting CO2 just in case we need them.

Contrary to some people’s belief the wind doesn’t blow all the time and whilst wind turbines typically turn 80% of the time, for much of that time they are producing very little electricity. In fact, the accepted figure for the overall efficiency (load factor) for any wind turbine is between 25% and 30% so a turbine with a capacity of 1 megawatt will only actually produce between a quarter and a third of that.

Tourism is a major source of income for Scotland and Moray in particular. The wind turbine developers will have us believe that the sight of industrial intrusions such as these in our landscape has no effect on tourism. Why then did Visit Scotland feel the need to airbrush the electricity pylons from their promotional photographs of Kilchurn Castle in Argyll? The Scottish government can’t have it both ways. On one hand they want to press ahead with their stated aim to produce all of Scotland’s energy from renewable sources by 2020 and on the other they are trying to promote it as pristine and unspoilt.

People worry that the value of their property will be adversely affected by the close proximity of a wind turbine development. Again the developers say there is no evidence for this. Why then did a district judge in Cumbria award a family substantial compensation because the vendor of a house that they bought failed to disclose a proposal for a wind turbine development nearby?

Developers point to the advantages for the local economy in as far as investment and job creation are concerned. The reality is that any advantage is very short lived. The turbines are designed and built abroad and their construction is overseen by personnel from the manufacturing company. Local jobs may be created during construction but there are no long term benefits.

Noise is often cited as an objection to the erection of wind turbines close to houses and as more and more turbines are built they will inevitably be built in closer proximity to residential developments. Advocates of large scale onshore wind power stations will say that the noise is no more than a whisper in the background but we all know that annoying noises are not just measured by loudness. Think of a dripping tap or a fly buzzing whilst you’re trying to sleep and you get the picture.

For anyone who has not yet been convinced to delve more deeply into the whys and wherefores of wind power and for anyone who thinks that building wind turbines on every skyline is Scotland is the answer to all of our problems – consider this: A Boeing 747 airliner emits more CO2 on average during a year's operation than is displaced per year by a 50-60 MW total capacity wind power station. That means that the proposal to build up to 22  3MW turbines on the skyline south of Elgin at Brown Muir may displace the same amount of CO2 as one single Boeing 747. Is it worth it?

Holland and Denmark, two of the countries who were at the forefront of developing wind power technology have now abandoned plans to site any new onshore wind power stations because of their inefficiency.

Wind power can only ever displace a minute fraction of the worlds CO2 emissions and anyone who tries to tell us otherwise is perpetrating a con on a colossal scale. The people who stand to gain are the developers and landowners who are bribed with massive subsidies from the government (which effectively means from the Scottish taxpayer). The people who stand to lose are us. This land is in our hands, in trust for our children and our children’s children and if the politicians and the fat cats have their way, our children will look back on our stewardship of the land and hang their heads in shame.

We should be concentrating on reducing our energy consumption and developing more efficient technology. Wind power undoubtedly has its place but we should be investing in all renewable technology, not putting all of our eggs in one basket with wind. We should be realistic about what we can get from wind and not be swayed by the massive subsidies on offer. To those who think a few windmills are harmless, graceful features on the landscape, all I ask is that you investigate the industry from all sides and consider where whether the benefit is worth the cost.

John Muir – a Scotsman who was the founding father of the US national parks movement said:

Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean….

If we don’t call a halt now, there won’t be anywhere left to wash our spirits clean and we’ll still be relying on fossil fuels and nuclear to keep the lights on..and our play stations playing…and our iphones phoning.

Yours Faithfully

Janet Donnelly
The Kennels
Glen of Rothes
AB38 7AQ

Monday, 15 August 2011

Pennine Way - dilemma...what to do for the last leg. One day or two?

If you are considering walking the Pennine Way, one of the decisions that you'll have to make is whether or not to walk the final leg in one day or two. When I worked out my schedule, it took me from Bellingham to Byrness and I had accommodation booked at Forest View walkers accommodation.

Due to the lack of accommodation between there and Kirk Yetholm, walkers are then faced with a final leg of around 30 miles. There is of course the option of doing it in one day and lots of people do so I'm told but that was never an option for me.

The other option is to break the journey and get collected half way by either Joyce who will take you back to Forest View for an evening meal and then bring you back to where you left off the next day ready to complete your journey...or arrange to stay at the Farmhouse at Yetholm Mill in Kirk Yetholm in which case you turn left at Clennell Street after Windy Gyle and walk down to be met by Marilyn at the bottom of the track.

I chose the second option and what a fantastic choice it was. The walk down from Clennell Street was easy and took me 51 minutes. I had called Marilyn from the ridge and told her to expect me in an hour. It was actually Roy who came to collect me and it was great to see him after three weeks apart. It's just a 10 minute drive to the B&B and a lovely room complete with en suite Jacuzzi bathroom which was very welcome after 250 miles. My boots were whisked away to the boiler room to dry out and Marilyn's husband Jon said that if he had known how muddy my waterproof trousers were, he would have washed them for me. Now that is surely above and beyond the call of duty!! A hot bath and freshen up later and Jon served us a beautiful meal with wine in their lovely dining room as I told Roy all about my walk so far.

Our room for two nights - bliss

I have to admit that I was knackered but very excited to be so near to the end and I slept like a log in a really comfy king sized bed. The next morning we had a huge breakfast to set us up for the day, then picked up the packed lunches that Marilyn had made for us (which were a cut above the usual cheese or ham sandwiches) and she then drove us back to the bottom of the track at Clennell Street where she deposited us ready for the final day. I was refreshed, excited and of course I only had my day pack which meant I was very light on my feet.

The muscles were eased off on the walk back up to the ridge which took about an hour and fifteen minutes at an easy pace and then we walked the final fantastic day together.

At 10 past 5 we were ordering our pints in the Border Arms and later that evening enjoyed a really great meal there to celebrate before spending another night at the Farmhouse.
Another huge breakfast was eaten and then it was off home.

For anyone who isn't quite sure what to do about the last leg - I can heartily recommend doing it the way I did. The luxury of the Farmhouse is just what you need after all that walking and Marilyn and Jon are so welcoming and hospitable that you really feel that you are ending on a high. The guys that I walked with for a couple of days took the other option and walked down at Coquet Valley to meet Joyce and go back to Forest View but I thought that I would feel that it was a long way to walk only to end up back where you started. It's all in your head of course because either way, the walk is much the same length but I'm happy with what I did. You can find details of the Farmhouse here; Farmhouse at Yetholm Mill and if you click on the link to walking holidays you'll find details of their Pennine Way package which is reasonably priced and worth every penny.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A new product in the fight against the dreaded midge.

I live in the highlands of Scotland and I love the outdoors but there is something that makes life a misery from May to September every year. For those of you who have never been to visit the beautiful highlands in the summer, let me introduce you to....the midge.

They look harmless enough and if there was just one or two of them, I wouldn't have a problem but they hunt in gangs - big nasty female gangs. They are attracted to the carbon dioxide that you breathe out and once they home in on you there is no escape. It's your blood that they're after and it's difficult to get across to anyone who hasn't experienced it just how much of a problem they are. Often the first sign of them is that initial bite. Then the cloud homes in and every bit of bare flesh is under attack. They invade your ears, your nostrils, your eyes, your mouth - in fact any bit of you is fair game. They are indescribably annoying - if you open your mouth you'll breathe them in and if they bite then they itch. I've come back from putting rubbish in the wheely bin with a dozen bites on each arm and only hydrocortisone cream will bring relief.

Not my arm I hasten to add!

So what to do about the dreaded midge that imprisons you in your house or your tent and inflicts untold misery on all who love the outdoors? In the past the answer was  
  • Avon Skin so Soft spray oil - works well but not infallible
  • Deet of various strengths - which isn't that great and given that it dissolves plastic and will take the varnish off your table is not an ideal thinsg to be putting on your skin
  • Citronella in various guises - smells nice but not that effective
  • Myriad other natural and not so natural repellents - most of which I've tried and most of which I've not been impressed with.
Now a new discovery which has allowed me to spend many happy hours outdoors in the garden over the past few days without any bites at all.....SMIDGE

It comes in a little pump and unlike a lot of other products it smells quite nice. It is safe for kids, and is sweat and moisture resistant so it lasts and a little goes a long way.

I don't mind admitting that I was sceptical and Smidge isn't cheap so I didn't buy it straight away when I heard about it but eventually succumbed. And what do you know - it works and I am a very happy girl. I still make sure I'm covered up as far as possible when I go in the garden with long sleeves and trousers but I apply it to my face, neck, ears and hands and it does the trick. The midges are still about and are still a bit of a nuisance but at no point tonight did I want to rip my own skin off in an effort to discourage the little blighters.

You'll find more about SMIDGE here: 
I'll definitely be keeping a bottle of Smidge to hand in future. It will be interesting to see if it works as well when camping and if it means that we can actually enjoy a camping trip without having to spend most of it zipped up inside the tent then I'll be buying shares.

Saturday, 30 July 2011


The one constant source of comment, complaint and conversation at anywhere I stopped was feet. How many blisters, how sore, how achy, how many bits were festering.....

I have never really had much of a problem with blisters or my feet and I was determined that I wasn't going to start now so I formulated a plan:
  1. Clean socks every day which meant washing them each night as soon as I arrived at my accommodation. I took two pairs of Merino wool thick socks with me.
  2. No matter how tired I was, I took the time to wash and dry my feet carefully each night and paid special attention to keeping the nails trimmed.
  3. Gehwol extra foot cream from Bob and Rose at http://www.backpackinglight.co.uk/product200.asp?PageID=101 This is a fantastic product. Every night I took time to really massage it into my sore and aching feet. It has quite a nice smell and it's cooling and refreshing so really soothes your feet.

The tube was quite heavy to carry but it was worth every gram and every penny it cost.

I don't know if I was just lucky or if my plan worked, but I didn't get a single blister, hotspot or sore bit anywhere on my feet. Yes they ached at the end of a long day but apart from that I had no issues with them at all. If you are planning a long walk I suggest you invest some money in a tube and be thorough with your footcare every day no matter how tired you are - you won't regret it and it might make the difference between giving up and finishing.