South Scotland

Warning over turbine applications near Dark Sky Park

Dark Sky Park
Image caption An observatory at the Dark Sky Park was opened by Alex Salmond in October last year

Astronomers and land charities have warned that Britain's only Dark Sky Park is being threatened by applications for wind turbines.

Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park secured its status in 2009.

But the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, the John Muir Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group have written to the Scottish government, asking it to rule out wind farms in the vicinity.

There have been nine proposals for turbines near the park's observatory.

These include plans from energy companies such as E.ON and RWE npower renewables, among others.

Mark Gibson, chairman of the board of trustees of the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, said that while some applications had been rejected, having one approved could open the door for further development.

Visibility of stars

Ministry of Defence and Aviation Authority safety requirements mean that wind turbines must be illuminated by infra-red light and, in some areas used regularly for training or search and rescue, visible light illumination may also be needed.

Turbines near the park could fall into the latter category, and the campaigners said it would affect both the ability of astronomers to use sensitive equipment, and the visibility of stars, galaxies, comets and northern lights.

The group has called for the park to be given protection similar to that afforded to areas of wild land, and has called on the Scottish government to update planning policy to rule out the construction of wind farms around the park.

The facility is the only Dark Sky Park in Britain - although both Exmoor and the Brecon Beacons national parks have been awarded Dark Sky Reserve status - and is home to the world's only publicly accessible, research-grade observatory within a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park.

The observatory was officially opened by First Minister Alex Salmond last year.

Prof John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, said: "Installing any large structures that require illumination (whether visible or infra-red) would be akin to putting a factory in Glen Coe or electricity pylons along the Cuillin Ridge.

"Our first minister was instrumental in helping to secure funding for the observatory and he opened it with much passion and aplomb in October last, praising Scotland for leading the world with this fine public and educational facility.

"But Mr Salmond is also an ardent advocate of wind farms and so faces a dilemma.

"I, for one, would call upon him now to prove his sincere interest in our wild lands and skies by ensuring wind farms and other dark sky contaminants are excluded from the entire Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park.

"This would lay down a benchmark for future decisions on all similar wild land sites where wind farms are wholly inappropriate."

However, Jeremy Sainsbury of the renewable energy consultancy, Natural Power, said studies had shown that the type of beacons used did not contribute in any significant way to light pollution.

"This is low level background infra-red - visible to pilots but it does not penetrate the upper atmosphere," he said.

"It only stays within the clutter of the lower atmosphere so is very, very localised to wind turbines."

He said wind farm and studies had confirmed this to be the case.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "The Scottish government consulted on the draft Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) earlier this year.

"It included proposals to guide local authorities in the preparation of spatial frameworks for wind energy development.

"We received a large number of responses to the consultation, including many views on onshore wind, and will take these responses into account when we publish the finalised SPP next year."

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