The new study by BiGGAR Economics (“Wind farms have no negative impact on tourist industry, study shows”, The Herald, August 3) does not succeed in its objective of undermining claims that wind farms drive down tourism. It has significant methodological weaknesses and, perhaps more importantly, a major conceptual weakness. It assumes that all wind farms are equal; that each can be expected to have the same effect on tourism. But that is not the case.
Proponents of wind farms would have us believe that tourism impacts are always negligible. Opponents would have us believe that the destruction of tourism in Scotland is nigh. Neither position is at all tenable. The real position is much more complex and subtle. That is an uncomfortable message for all sides in a polarised, binary debate and also one difficult to get across in a sound-bite or catchy headline.
There is no universal answer to the question of whether wind farms affect tourism (or recreation). It depends on three things: (a) the characteristics of any proposed development (both individually and as part of the wider regional and national pattern); (b) the nature of the local (and competitor) tourism offer and market; and (c) the characteristics of local tourists.
Only tourism that is sensitive to upland landscape quality will be affected by wind farms, and only in areas where such tourism has a sizeable market share would wind farm construction have an area-level effect. These are where the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) focuses its objections to wind farms. It is very telling that not one of the wind farms in the BiGGAR study had been objected to by the MCofS.
I have just completed the first draft of a review of the research evidence on mountaineering tourism and wind farms for the MCofS. I did so independently and with the benefit of having had a career in research, statistics and intelligence. In the review, I quantify the landscape-sensitive component of Scottish tourism. I estimate that the current impact of wind farms on tourism is a displacement of just under five per cent of tourist spend within Scotland from areas with wind farms to areas without, and that 0.25 per cent of potential spend is lost to Scotland.
How far these figures will rise depends on strategic and local planning decisions on the extent and pattern of wind farm development in Scotland and how effectively they safeguard areas important for upland tourism in each region of Scotland. The pattern so far is mixed, with most decisions being sensible but some lacking balance. Good decision-making will not be helped by inadequate research.
This letter is written in a personal capacity but I declare that I am an elected board member of the MCofS.