If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of people who like to visit the western Ochils – the part in the Stirling area, including Dumyat, the Cocksburn Reservoir, Logie Kirk and Old Kirk, the spectacular scarp slopes between Logie and Menstrie, Yellowcraig Wood, Sheriffmuir Battlesite, Paradise Pool or other parts of Sheriffmuir – you’ll soon be seeing signs of massive construction works. You’re likely to be shocked, even horrified. You may well wonder what on earth is happening, and how any sane government could allow such desecration of such an important area of outstanding natural beauty, history and outdoor recreation.
What’s happening is that Scottish Power Transmission Ltd (SPT), working in partnership with Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Ltd (SHETL) in the area to the north, have persuaded the SNP Scottish Government, and their Labour – Liberal Democrat predecessors, to allow them to construct an enormous, extra-high voltage (400KV) power line, all the way from Beauly to Denny – and across this part of the western Ochils.
There is an existing, lower voltage (132KV) power line that has followed this route for some 60 years, and it’s reaching the end of its natural life. It is a considerable eyesore – you may have noticed it, in this part of the Ochils, or perhaps where it runs alongside the A9 as it crosses Drumochter Pass. But its replacement will be many times more ugly, more intrusive, and more damaging to the wonderful landscapes of this very special part of the Ochils, and elsewhere.
The power companies have persuaded successive Scottish Governments that there is a need for additional electricity transmission capacity, now that so many wind farms are being constructed throughout upland Scotland, and this may be true. What the companies, with their huge lobbying power, also managed to persuade the Scottish Government, with its lamentable inability to think for itself when confronted by such large business interests, was that there was no alternative to putting this new, extra-high voltage line overland (rather than under the sea, the logical alternative) and overhead (rather than underground, through the most sensitive areas – a more expensive, but perfectly sensible alternative, used in most other civilised countries).
Campaigners from all along the power line put everything they had into standing up to the power companies, and trying to get the Governments to see the massive flaws in their arguments, and to recognise that there really were sensible, viable, affordable, justifiable alternatives that would spare this area, and others, from the ravages to come. Friends of the Ochils battled for eight years, alongside community group Stirling Before Pylons, and (for the first four years) in close partnership with government advisers Scottish Natural Heritage, and latterly with Stirling Council – where councillors of every political persuasion came to understand and back our case.
Very sadly, at the end of 2011, the Scottish Ministers gave their final permissions for an all-overhead power line, and there are no further grounds for opposition.
At the very last moment, a small amount of compensation has been offered – the sum of between £3 and £5 million, to be spent by Stirling Council in the Stirling area for landscape mitigation measures. These measures are supposed to be concentrated on the Ochils and the Plean area, but decisions rest with Stirling Council, and other areas, and other schemes, will no doubt vie to get some of the funding.
Friends of the Ochils have argued that as much as possible must be spent in the western Ochils, in order to do all that can be done to offset the major negative visual impacts of the new power line. We want to see the dry stone walls reconstructed all the way along the Sheriffmuir road – an ancient drove road – as an attractive, strong, linear feature to offset the power line, to a degree. We also argue for a fund to be set up, to allow ongoing maintenance of the major footpaths up Dumyat and round the Cocksburn Reservoir. We argue too that future generations should be left the legacy of many more trees – suitably chosen, sensitively located, and carefully nurtured – and the Central Scotland Green Network is likely to be involved in developments like this.
But whatever gets done by way of mitigation, the western Ochils are going to be desecrated by the construction works, the scarring and the terrible legacy of a huge power line, on badly sited giant pylons, joined up by thick, visually intrusive cables, marching across Sheriffmuir, down to Logie and on past the Wallace Monument. Friends of the Ochils thinks this is a crying shame.