Special report: Our fears for island ‘oasis’
PUBLISHED: 21:22 15 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:48 15 August 2012
Lundy residents and visitors are concerened that a giant offshore wind farm could shatter the tranquillity and ecology of one of England’s last true island wildernesses.
"It feels a bit like a factory is being built on our doorstep; in fact it feels a bit like a factory is being built on the edge of wilderness."
THERE are fears that a giant offshore wind farm could shatter the tranquillity and ecology of one of England’s last true island wildernesses.
Emotions ran high on Lundy Island last week when representatives from RWE npower renewables visited the island to brief residents on the latest plans for the Atlantic Array offshore wind farm.
Around 40 locals and visitors attended the presentation in St Helena’s Church, held to outline proposals for up to 278 turbines nine miles to the north and north-west of the island.
When the Gazette visited Lundy less than 24 hours later, turbines were still very much the talk of the tiny island, once named Britain’s 10th greatest natural wonder.
Lundy general manager Derek Green said: “There were a lot of people there last night who have been coming to Lundy for many years and there was a unanimous feeling in the audience that Lundy and the wider Bristol Channel would change dramatically and certainly not for the better.
“It feels a bit like a factory is being built on our doorstep; in fact it feels a bit like a factory is being built on the edge of wilderness.
“Stepping onto Lundy is a step back in time and it’s one of the last wildernesses to have been untouched by 20th century development.
“In the same way that the rest of the country has changed so dramatically, Lundy hasn’t changed in the 43 years of Landmark Trust stewardship.
"There is a lot of interest on the island. People who come here on a regular basis are the ones who are particularly concerned."
“There is no development whatsoever. It’s an untouched, unspoilt oasis.
“As administrators one of the concerns we have is whether visitors will continue to return to Lundy if it loses that feeling of remoteness and that development encroaches upon it for the sake of a wind farm.”
Mr Green said that many Lundy visitors were regulars who had been coming to the island for many years.
“Visitors are fearful for the future of their island sanctuary,” he said.
“There is a collective concern that their special place is not going to be special any more.”
At 220 metres high, the turbines could be twice the height of the island, managed by the Landmark Trust on behalf of the National Trust.
The island is a working farm, although many of the island’s 27 inhabitants are involved in the running of 23 holiday properties that are occupied 85 per cent of the year.
Mr Green said he didn’t think that anyone on the island would deny that renewable energy was a good thing.
"I’m not convinced about the ecological points they put forward to say it won’t affect it – it will."
“We’ve got renewable systems on the island already but they are discreet and don’t detract from the natural environment or the feeling of remoteness that one has when one’s on Lundy.
“Government guidelines for offshore wind farms recommend they are at least 12 miles outside the nautical limit but this one is almost wholly inside and I think that if it were to be built further to the west then it would be much more discreet and much more appropriate.”
Island receptionist Shelly Southon, who has lived on Lundy for three years, said she was ‘completely dead against’ the wind farm proposal.
“I’m actually totally for renewable energy sources but in the right places,” she said.
“I think it will change Lundy, absolutely.
“People come here for that separation from the mainland but when you put a wind farm there it will be a constant a reminder of that life.
“Even in the dark you’re going to have red lights on top of them all whereas here you’ve got the dark skies.”
Shelly said the presentation was followed by a question and answer session, with many of the concerns raised focusing on the visual impact, noise and the impact on wildlife.
“There is a lot of interest on the island. People who come here on a regular basis are the ones who are particularly concerned.
“RWE say that we’ll only see the wind farm for 250 days a year but that’s no comfort to the visitors who could see it for 100 per cent of their stay. If it’s misty what are we going to say to visitors – well, at least you can’t see the wind farm?
“You lose the noise of the mainland on Lundy; when the generator goes off there’s silence here.
“But during construction, the pile driving noise – if they use that type of foundation – will go on for possibly three years in total, 24 hours a day.
“Some said that the noise of it would scare wildlife away but the people who were doing the presentation said yes, but they’ll come back.”
Post master Reg Tuffin, 81, who has lived on Lundy for 18 years, said he was opposed to the array plans.
“I’m concerned that the things are going to be twice the height of Lundy and within nine miles of the island,” he said.
“It’ll impinge on the views going towards South Wales. I’m not convinced about the ecological points they put forward to say it won’t affect it – it will.”
Kate Johns, second chef, said: “I’m not overly keen on the idea.”
Ben Clarke, barman, said: It’s difficult to visualise but I think it’ll be a bit of an eyesore.”
Head barman Grant Sherman, 44, is originally from Ilfracombe but has lived on Lundy for six years. He said he was tentatively against the proposals in the current location.
“I’m for renewable energy as such but I’m not sure that this is in the right location.
"I don’t have concerns about the visual impact. May main concerns are with the construction, when the noise will be and what impact that will have under water."
“It’s going to affect the view from the island. At the moment you get clear views of the South Wales coast and the views and the unspoilt surroundings are some of the things that bring people to the island.
“Looking at the mock-up they’ve done, I’m not sure how much of the Welsh coast you’ll be able to see any more.
“I’m tentatively against the proposals in this location. Most of the other sites in this round seem to be a bit further off shore and not completely surrounded by scenic areas.
“Also, I’m not sure about the impact of the array on the whole ecology of the Bristol Channel area.”
"It’ll look a lot worse than they are portraying in their pictures – they will be a lot taller than the island itself."
Grant said he studied guillemots in his spare time and had been monitoring the feeding rates for the past six years. He said he was concerned that any shift in sediment caused by the array could affect the water clarity for animals feeding in that area.
“It fluctuates over the years how much fish they bring back but with the pylons there, there is going to be a certain amount of scattering with the tides, although RWE say the effect will be negligible,” he said.
The Gazette also managed to speak to a number of regular visitors to the island, among them Tabitha Leask, 21, from Gloucester, who has been coming to Lundy with her family for 15 years.
She said: “To say it’s sad is an understatement; I think it’s awful.
"I come to Lundy to get away from technology, for peace and quiet and the views. I’ll probably keep coming back it they build a wind farm, but it’ll be different."
“I come to Lundy to get away from technology, for peace and quiet and the views. I’ll probably keep coming back it they build a wind farm, but it’ll be different.”
Martin Harris, who has been visiting the island regularly during the last 10 years, said: “The island won’t lose its charm for me personally but it might for a lot of other people. For me the most important concern is the potential environmental impact.”
Oldenburg captain Jerry Waller, from Torrington, sails to the island four-to-five times a week. He said he’d had first-hand experience of watching similar offshore wind farms being built off the coasts of Norfolk and Liverpool.
“This will be far bigger in terms of wind generator and also in number and it’s out of order in my eyes,” he said.
"It’s going to affect the view from the island. The views and the unspoilt surroundings are some of the things that bring people to the island."
“It’ll look like a white picket fence. People who go to Lundy want to feel that they are leaving the mainland – they want that isolation.
“It’ll look a lot worse than they are portraying in their pictures – they will be a lot taller than the island itself.
On a bright clear day you can count every one of the turbines at Fullabrook from Lundy – and they are smaller than the ones they are proposing out here.
“The turbines could possibly deter yachtsmen and motor cruisers from South Wales to North Devon as they will have to consciously go around them,” he added.
Shop manager Nigel Dalby, who has lived on the island for 10 years, said there was a sad feeling of inevitability about the plans.
“I think it’s going to happen but it doesn’t mean you can just let everybody do whatever they want, whenever they want.
“I don’t want to feel like a Nimby but I am one. I can see why they are building it; I just want someone to tell me why instead of being nine miles out there, they couldn’t have stuck it 12 miles over there where nobody would have seen the thing.
“But unless the people of this country stop using electricity at the rate they are using it and look at what they are doing then it inevitable that stuff like this is going to happen.”
Others on the island also wrestled with the notion of renewable energy needs and concerns about the impact the wind farm might have.
Rob Cheetham, a cargo loader who has lived on Lundy for five years, said: “It’s a difficult one because I agree that we have to have renewable energy but when it’s on your own doorstep it’s another thing.
“It’s just a shame it couldn’t be further out to sea. I don’t like the look of them but at the moment I can’t see any other way. I think it’s a done deal now.
“For me the island won’t change but for others it would if you come because you value the outlook and see turbines looming on the horizon.”
Barman Kevin Loftus, 28, moved to Lundy from Northam in March last year. He said he’d been a long-time supporter of renewable energy and that although the wind farm could have a negative impact visually, he didn’t think it’d be bad as people thought.
He said: “I love this place – I wouldn’t want to change it or the atmosphere for the world but we need renewable energy. We need to have low carbon energy production and if it has to happen in a place that I love and somewhere that’s as beautiful as Lundy, then so be it.
“Everywhere that has wind turbines has met with driving opposition at the planning stage and then when they go up, overall people generally feel they are not as bad as they thought they were going to be. It hasn’t impacted on tourism as much as they thought.
“Personally I don’t have concerns about the visual impact. May main concerns are with the construction, when the noise will be and what impact that will have under water.
“It’s not going to be attractive to everyone but on the other hand some people may feel that it’s beautiful.”
Warden Donald Malone, who started work on the island in June, said he could see how some people liked the idea of wind turbines but would not want them on their own doorstep.
“I’m not completely adverse to the sight of them – I’d rather look at them than a power station. We need to look at other ways of getting cleaner energy,” he said.
“I can appreciate that many people come here for the peace and quiet and views and that maybe for them having a wind farm here could ruin it but it won’t have a huge impact for me.
“There is worry about the level of noise during the construction stage but the main issue as far as I’m concerned is the impact on the marine environment long-term and especially during the construction phase.
“I also worry about the impact on bird species such as the Manx Shearwater, which are nocturnal birds and do a lot of their foraging and flying at night.
“The wind farm might initially impact on their numbers until they learn. The wind farm could also move fish spawning grounds, especially during the construction.”
In an official response, the National Trust has objected ‘strongly’ to the proposal, saying it could not support something that would seriously damage the beauty of the coastline.
“The proposals announced for the Atlantic Array are very alarming. The huge array of turbines, each up to 50 per cent taller than the highest point of Lundy, and only eight-to-10 miles from land, will fundamentally change the views from both the North Devon and Gower coastlines.
“They will dominate the seascape around Lundy and will introduce an industrial scale development to this beautiful, wild coastline.
“The revised proposals presented by RWE for the Atlantic Array, which seem likely to mean fewer, taller turbines, will not, in our view, substantially reduce the impact it will have on the natural beauty of the area.
“Squeezed as it is, between two sensitive coastlines, we do not believe it is possible to locate a viable large scale wind farm within this zone without the damage substantially outweighing the benefits.”
Plans for the Atlantic Array can be viewed online by following the link at the top right of this page. They are also available to view at local libraries.
Feedback on the latest round of consultations ends at 5pm on August 31.