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Mini hydropower projects test ‘wild land’ status of scenic glen

Words: Roger Milne
Glen Etive / iStock-900886820

Three hydroelectricity schemes proposed for one of the Scotland’s wildest and most photogenic glens are at the centre of a planning row over the status of areas of so-called ‘wild land’.

The schemes were among seven separate small-scale generation projects approved by a Highland Council planning committee for sites along Glen Etive, near Glencoe.

The glen was made famous by its use as a backdrop in the James Bond film Skyfall. Its single-track road leading down to the sea is a popular and dramatic tourist destination.

However, intervention by one councillor, Andrew Baxter, has meant that permission for three of the projects, all on the south-east side of the River Etive, must be reconsidered by a meeting involving the full council.

Specialist green energy company Dickins Hydro Resources proposed the projects, which have a combined capacity of 6.7 megawatts.

A spokesperson from the council has confirmed that a full council meeting will consider three of the schemes, but that no date has been set for either the site visit or the subsequent council meeting.

The councillor behind the rethink says the three schemes are an important test of Scotland’s ability to protect ‘wild land’ areas from potentially damaging development.

All or some of the schemes have attracted opposition from organisations like The John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Scotland, which represents climbers and hill walkers.

Baxter is quoted as saying that allowing the three schemes would set a worrying precedent. “It’s such an important issue not just from a personal point of view but on a wider national basis. When Scottish Natural Heritage first published the wild land maps three or four years ago now I was quite vocal within council about us supporting them.

“This really hinges on the wild land area and my feeling that they don’t have the recognition that they should within the planning system, and that they do need protection.

“Although these three applications, some would argue, are on the very edge of the wild land area, it’s not about the impact on the entire area... the experience of wild land can be a very localised thing, and these will have an impact on this part of it.

“If we start encroaching on to the wild land at the edges, developers can come along and say, ‘Oh, we’re just going a little bit further’ and all of a sudden we find we have encroached deep into wild areas.”

Image credit | iStock