We were nervous about the rally against wind turbines last Saturday. We worried that no-one would turn up, or that a crowd of hostile ‘antis’ would be bussed in to shout us down. But by eleven thirty, fifty yards north of the Scottish border, there were over two hundred people, well-wrapped against the cold. Two dairy cows were reaching hungrily over a fence, towards a cardboard placard (depicting, in felt-tip, a turbine) but there were no ‘antis’. A huge blonde man in a black suit, from BBC Newcastle, was giving frantic instructions to his cameraman. He had the expression of someone struggling to record some out-dated and troubling ritual: involving tweed-suited conservatives (or druids perhaps). But he would have struggled to stereotype our group. He strode between a nurse from Longtown, some sheep farmers, a man who repairs tractors and the heads of the Parish Councils from Mungrisdale and Tebay. Some were in ties, some in track-suits. A retired colonel stood next to a young man, who had the stubble and clothes of a rock musician. There were children in bright wellies, a man in his forties with a pony-tail, and a bishop. They represented communities from over 2,000 square miles of Cumbria: from Wigton to the West Coast, from Lunesdale to Longtown, from Shap to the South of Scotland.
The protest was against a proposal to build nine four-hundred foot turbines on the Solway Moss. We tried to explain to a reporter how high that was by pointing to a nearby telegraph pole, but it’s hard to imagine a white steel and plastic turbine, twenty times the height of the telegraph pole, turning in the evening light and visible for four hundred square miles around. The first Scottish speaker spoke of how it felt to find herself living under the flickering shadow of such giants in her remote border valley: she is soon to have over 400 in her parish alone.
We make more than a billion pounds a year from tourism: it is our largest income earner and supports over ten thousand families in Penrith and the Border. We are not a wealthy area and hill-farming has had a very difficult time. And why, I asked in my speech, do tourists come here? We have great meat, but they are more likely to go to France for the coq au vin; for Gothic palaces, they go to Venice; and if they want sun, they go to Spain. And they could go to those places. Greece is as convenient as Hadrian’s Wall if you’re coming from London. Our greatest resource is not our wind but our landscape, and turbines will destroy it.
Nor will building them in the Northern Lake District save the world. Converting coal power-stations to gas, and developing cleaner cars, would have ten thousand times more impact on reducing the UK’s carbon emissions than wrecking the Solway Moss. The new discoveries of shale gas in the United States and Europe answer many of the concerns people had, even eighteen months ago, about energy supply and energy security. (Professor Dieter Helm of Oxford University has written powerfully about this). And Cumbria is already doing an enormous amount to generate non-carbon emitting energy. We have just agreed to build three new nuclear power stations – which most parts of Britain would refuse – and with them generate 3,600 MW for the nation. So why should we now also become the national dumping ground for wind turbines– when all the turbines proposed for Penrith and the Border would generate one per cent of the power we will produce from our new nuclear stations and wreck our landscape, our homes and our economy in the process?
A hundred of us, therefore, moved on that afternoon to Longtown Memorial Hall community centre to discuss how to ensure Penrith and the Border be a turbine-free constituency. Dr. Mike Hall gave a brilliant presentation on energy and economics. Adrian told a group on the Scottish border how Tebay had gathered its environmental information; Bewcastle explained, from painful experience, which arguments to avoid; Wigton asked Scotland about techniques for collecting noise data; Berrier Hill told Longtown how to raise money for a public enquiry. I set up a basic website – www.cumbriawindwatch.co.uk – to record and share this knowledge and make it available to other groups. Our hope is that the turbine developers will begin to recognise the depth and strength of the opposition, the importance of our landscape to our economy and our lives, and will stop trying to force such developments through.
Cumbria is not being selfish. I knew most of the people there. They were the exact opposite of ‘not in my back-yard’ nimbies. They were some of the most generous and active members of our communities. Many were there without any personal stake. Some lived in a national park, where turbines are banned; others had fought and won their cases against wind turbines long since, and had driven North to join a protest at a place fifty miles from their homes. They were there because they cared deeply about our Cumbrian landscape, and about other communities who find meaning and solace, each in their own particular landscape. Developers and the government must listen to them.