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Historic dwellings face uncertain future

Their foundations date back more than a thousand years, to the times when the Vikings invaded Scotland's remote islands. But now campaigners fear that dozens of historic shielings – tiny stone dwellings used by crofters and farm tenants – could be damaged or even destroyed on the Isle of Lewis.

The concerns have emerged after Western Isles Council gave its support to plans for a massive 400 million wind farm on the island extending over more than 40km of peat moorland. It would be the largest of its kind on land. Many islanders are worried that the plans to construct approximately 230 turbines will threaten the future of many of the shielings.

The Lewis shielings, which have also been found elsewhere in Scotland, as well as in Norway and the Faroe Islands, were used as summer homes on the moorland, allowing the land at crofts and farms to recover and to give livestock fresh pasture. The shielings on Lewis date back to around 800 AD, when the island became a Norse colony, and some are still in use.

The John Muir Trust has raised concerns with the Scottish Executive about the wind-farm proposals by Lewis Wind Power, a joint venture between British Energy and Amec, highlighting the significance of the shielings.

"This area is a classic example of land that remains wild despite hundreds, if not thousands, of years of human activity," says the Trust.

"The human footprint on the interior of these moorland areas is unobtrusive and minimal. The presence of the many shielings adds not only a sense of the... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
The concerns have emerged after Western Isles Council gave its support to plans for a massive £400 million wind farm on the island extending over more than 40km of peat moorland. It would be the largest of its kind on land. Many islanders are worried that the plans to construct approximately 230 turbines will threaten the future of many of the shielings.

The Lewis shielings, which have also been found elsewhere in Scotland, as well as in Norway and the Faroe Islands, were used as summer homes on the moorland, allowing the land at crofts and farms to recover and to give livestock fresh pasture. The shielings on Lewis date back to around 800 AD, when the island became a Norse colony, and some are still in use.
 
The John Muir Trust has raised concerns with the Scottish Executive about the wind-farm proposals by Lewis Wind Power, a joint venture between British Energy and Amec, highlighting the significance of the shielings.
 
"This area is a classic example of land that remains wild despite hundreds, if not thousands, of years of human activity," says the Trust.
 
"The human footprint on the interior of these moorland areas is unobtrusive and minimal. The presence of the many shielings adds not only a sense of the local cultural history, but also depth to the sense of space and scale in one of the largest expanses of peat moorland in Europe."
Michael Robson, an islander with an interest in local heritage, says he is unconvinced by recent assurances from the council and Lewis Wind Power that the importance of the shielings has been taken into account.
 
"I can only see the wind-farm proposals as being totally damaging. It would be extremely difficult to visualise what 'taking them into account' would mean when you are talking about so many scattered through the area that may be affected. It is a pattern of agricultural history which would be greatly interfered with.
 
"It is one thing to say that a road or turbine would not destroy a building, but just as important is how the whole shieling system worked. I can see a thousand years of island history being destroyed, or obscured and destroyed.
 
"Those who are aware of the island's history value the shielings considerably." Robson adds it is not clear how many shielings are left on the island, but he says that their high number should not be used as justification for removing or damaging any of them.
 
"I personally have walked and explored over the greater part of Lewis. You find shielings all over the place. There is an argument from people who want to develop things that if there are a lot of them, then it doesn't matter. But I find that totally unwise. It would be taking out a particular village's system."

For those backing the wind-farm proposals, however, including Western Isles Council [Comhairle nan Eilean Siar], the preservation of the archaeological heritage of the island needs to be balanced with the benefits to the local economy.
 
A spokesman says: "The council undertook a major consultation on the Lewis Wind Power application. It is a huge proposal. There were many different aspects to the application. We had four days of solid information gathering from community councils, pressure groups and people with an interest. Obviously the archaeological features was one of the things we looked at. That has to be balanced against the other elements such as the socio-economic benefits."
 
David Hodkinson, a director of Lewis Wind Power, says: "Archaeological features were identified and taken into account during the design and consultation process. Issues around shielings were considered by the Comhairle and its elected members during the process that led to their vote of support for the scheme. The construction process will be carefully managed to avoid damaging any important archaeological features."
 
The Scottish Executive is expected to make a final decision on the wind-farm scheme in 2006.


Source: http://heritage.scotsman.co...

DEC 15 2005
https://www.windaction.org/posts/691-historic-dwellings-face-uncertain-future
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