Compare and contrast

A long, long time ago, when I was doing my A-levels, I seem to remember many essay questions asked us to “compare and contrast” various phenomena. Two recent posts by other bloggers have prompted me to do a bit of compare and contrast. James Boulter’s recent trek across the wilderness of Sarek in Sweden has an interesting counterpoint with Alan Sloman’s efforts to plan a wind farm free crossing for his 20th TGO Challenge.

 If you haven’t read James’ blog already, I recommend you make a cup of tea (or coffee), sit down and glory in the wonderful landscapes of northern Sweden.  You can find part one here and part two here. Here’s one of James’ photos to give you a taste:

Courtesy of James Boulter

Sarek National Park has been described as the last wilderness in Europe. Apart from a few paths, it is virtually untouched by man, even to the extent that there is no hunting.

Now, Sweden is a big country. It’s 449,964 sq. km with a population of 9,658,301, giving a population density of 21.5 people per sq km. Scotland is quite a lot smaller at 78,387 sq.km, with a population of 5,327,700 and a popualtion density of 67.5 persons per sq. km. Although the Scottish population density is over three times that of Sweden, it is still relatively sparsely populated in a global context (140th in the world compared with 194th for Sweden).

Perhaps it is slightly unfair to compare Scotland with Sweden, but the landscapes do have a similar feel to them. Obviously, few, if any areas of Scotland are true wilderness like Sarek. Nonetheless, it feels right to look after whatever we have.

Now have a look at this map. It’s the Map of the Zone of Theoretical Visibility (ZTV) of just the existing wind farms in Scotland taken from Alan’s blog. If you are standing in any of the blue areas, you will, theoretically, be able to see wind turbines.  The red area is the visual impact of the proposed Talladh-a-Bheithe wind farm.

visual impactCourtesy of Alan Sloman

Dispiriting isn’t it? It’s not surprising that Alan is having trouble plotting a wind farm free course across Scotland for the TGO Challenge. Is it any wonder that serious backpackers are beginning to consider whether Scotland is such an attractive destination after all? Backpackers like Alan and James are looking further afield to places like Sweden and the Pyrenees, places which are largely free of the curse of wind farms (although there is a massive wind farm planned in Sweden, not Sarek!).

Many businesses in the Highlands of Scotland lead a hand to mouth existence and are highly sensitive to small changes in revenue. Many tourists, not just backpackers, go to the Highlands for the views and feeling of wilderness. Will they continue to go if the land is being despoiled to this extent by wind farms?

I suspect that backpackers will still go, but less often and do shorter trips in the diminishing, unaffected areas. Longer treks like the Challenge are more beneficial to the Highland economy as more money is spent on accomodation and re-supply at shops. Shorter treks, may mean less revenue for small businesses.

 Returning to the map, the red area shows why the Talladh-a-Bheithe wind farm is such an important test for the remaining area of wild land. If it goes ahead, then it’s a dagger in the heart of an already ailing Highlands.

 I only started to visit the Highlands in 2007 and I’ve barely scratched the surface with my visits. I feel cheated. I will never be able to see the true, unspoilt Scotland in many areas. Sure there are still wonderful places to see, but instead of the feeling of freedom, there will be the constrained feeling of a theme park. Go beyond the boundaries and the senses will be assailed by the industrialisation of the landscape. For the real feeling of wilderness and freedom, increasingly, backpackers will have to go abroad.

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12 thoughts on “Compare and contrast”

  1. I know both countries mountain areas pretty well and your conclusions are correct. In two months of walking the whole of the Swedish mouatin chain I saw less than a handful of individual wind turbines, these were to support remote communties so were arguably forgivable.

    I think what’s important to note is that Sweden has an indigenous population, the Sami, still in its mountains. It’s their home, workplace and cultural homeland and this puts a balance into things which can’t exist in the Highlands as it’s population was mainly subject to clearance.

    Now Sweden is not perfect though it’s better. James crossed Stora Sjofallet which is a massive hydro project from the 30s onwards which was built in a then national park (not Sarek). That’s controversial to this day. There’s now pressure for ‘rare earth’ mining too in other parts of Lapland so arguably there are similar pressures. It’s how the authorities respond of course.

    It’s chilling ‘zone of theoretical visibility map’, small compensation that most of the Scottish hills I stand on are covered in mist!

    1. Thanks Mark. Good to get a view from someone who has spent a lot of time in Sweden. I suspect it’s going to become a more popular destination for Brits.

    1. I think it more to do with nationalist politics and Salmond’s drive for independence. Rationally, wind power doesn’t stack up economically.

  2. Its all very sad the way things are going in Scotland Robin. I agree that people will do shorter trips and concentrate on the areas that are unaffected. At the end of the month I am heading to the far north. The plan was to do a 7 day east coast to west coast backpack across Caithness and Sutherland. However there are already 2 wind farms now on a route I planned a couple of years ago. That and the shockingly poor public transport means that instead Im taking the Bongo and cherry picking the best bits. I will now be self sufficient and won’t be spending much locally. Backpacking I would have had 3 nights in a b&b.

    1. You’ve got to feel sorry for a lot of small businesses in the Highlands. They’ve been stuffed by politicians from the central belt.

  3. I’ve enjoyed yomping around Scotland for many a decade and having to watch the destruction of wild land over the past decade, & still continuing, has been depressing. Will it stop me going out for a yomp? NO; but it will make me more selective about where I go, for how long & consequently how much I spend.
    The Pyrenees is calling again for the 2015 hol’s; I didn’t see a single wind monster on the entire HRP!

    1. I agree, Paul. People will still backpack in Scotland but perhaps shorter trips and less often. The Pyrenees and Scandinavia will benefit at the expense of Scotland.

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