Mountaineers are abandoning the Scottish hills and heading overseas because of the march of the turbines, it was claimed yesterday.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCoS) has expressed concern that the proliferation of windfarms is driving outdoor visitors elsewhere.
It is now surveying its 11,800 members to find out what effect turbines are having on their activities in the hills.
The effect of windfarms on tourism has been much debated in the Highlands in recent years. Official studies have been carried out into the impact on tourism, but the research is now several years old.
The MCoS’s director for landscape and access, Dave Gordon, said: “Although few windfarms have yet been built in core mountain areas, only around half of those with planning permission been built. And there are a significant number of current planning applications for large windfarms in wild mountainous landscapes.
“There is almost no up-to-date evidence on the effect that the spread of windfarms is having on the recreational use of Scotland’s hills.”
He said developers and the government repeatedly drew on the same few studies – some well out of date – to insist that windfarms had no impact on recreation and tourism.
“Anecdotally, MCofS hears differently,” Mr Gordon said. “We hear that people are beginning to avoid certain areas, are visiting less frequently, are going to Cumbria or abroad more often. But we also hear people say that it makes no difference to them.”
The new survey defines windfarms as arrays of more than three turbines more than 200ft high to blade tip.
It asks mountaineers if there are areas that are less appealing for walking and climbing because of windfarms and how the increasing number of developments would affect plans for walking and climbing.
The questionnaire also asks what level of protection Scotland’s mountains and wild land should have and how windfarms would affect the respondents’ choice of accommodation.
Mountaineer Chris Townsend said he had also heard people say they would rather go abroad, to the likes of the Pyrenees, because of turbines in the Highlands.
“There are people saying that and they are spreading their views,” he said. “That will have an effect and people will think that the Highlands are being spoilt so they won’t come.”
Highland councillor Jim Crawford said he was concerned at the suggestion that mountaineers were snubbing the Highlands because of the turbines.
He had also been told the Highlands were less attractive as a film location for the same reason.
Mr Crawford, an outspoken windfarm critic, said: “It is a big worry if mountaineers are choosing to go abroad. It’s disgraceful. The whole of the Highlands should be concerned.”
One couple out walking yesterday near the Novar windfarm, north-west of Evanton in Easter Ross, said the noise of the turbines also put walkers off.
People just did not want to walk near them because of the noise, they said.
But mountaineer Cameron McNeish said turbines were in areas where the vast majority of people did not venture.
Last month, a Scottish Government consultation showed resounding support for greater protection for wild land from windfarms and other development.
Fewer than 50 responses opposed the proposal. Almost all of them were from energy corporations, property developers and landowners with a financial interest in making profit from wild land.