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.
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.