Plans for a controversial wind farm off the South coast of England were refused planning consent this week, due in part to concerns about the impact on tourism. This got me wondering… do wind turbines really put people off visiting an area?

Wind turbine blades against a cloudy sky

The proposal to build and operate an offshore wind farm in the English Channel, 14 km off the coast of Dorset and 17 km from the Isle of Wight, would have seen around 190 wind turbines generating enough clean renewable energy to power 700,000 households. It would also have prevented almost 1.3 million tonnes of carbon emissions from being released into the atmosphere each year.

The plans were controversial, not least of all because areas of the Dorset coast are designated by UNESCO as part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (WHS) thanks to some outstanding geological and geomorphological features.

The wind farm would have been visible  on the horizon from the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast (Dorset and East Devon) world heritage site.

Jurassic coast fossils

This is a much loved area of coastline, in a region that attracts approximately £1 billion worth of tourism into the local economy.

 

The potential impact on tourism, both in and around the seaside town of Bournemouth and the wider county of Dorset, was one of the key issues raised by objectors who claimed there could be a 20% drop in visitor numbers, leading to a loss of £211 million per year from the local economy.

But visitors still arrive in Cornwall, Scotland and Norfolk in high numbers, despite the wind farms. Not to mention Belgium, Denmark and Germany. So are wind farms really bad for tourism?

Chapman’s Pool on the Jurassic Coast.

When the Navitus Bay team carried out a survey about the potential impact of the development on tourism in the region they found plenty of optimism among respondents.

The vast majority (92%) of the tourism businesses interviewed expected their business to increase or remain stable and most (72%) believed Navitus Bay Wind Farm would have little or no impact on their business prospects.

This optimism was shared by visitors to the region – 86% of Summer-season visitors said the development would not put them off visiting the region in the future.

There is a growing body of academic research into the relationship between wind farms and tourism.

Aberdyfi Beach in Wales is overlooked by wind turbines

In 2003, the Scottish Executive commissioned a study into the attitudes of 1,810 people living within a 20km radius of 10 separate large wind farms across the country.

The poll showed that people were more positive about wind turbines the closer they lived to them, and that while 27% expected wind farm development to spoil the landscape before construction, only 12% agreed after.

In 2005, St Andrews University surveyed the attitudes of people living within a 10km radius of several wind farms in the Scottish Borders and southwest Ireland – two areas heavily dependent on tourism for their economy.

The report found that although people expected a negative impact on tourism prior to the construction of the wind farms, their fears were unfounded, and a majority of tourists associated wind farms with renewable energy rather than with landscape damage.

Data from some wind farm developments also suggests they are becoming tourist attractions in their own right. The visitor centre for Scroby Sands offshore wind farm near Norfolk, one of the first in the UK, attracted over 40,000 visitors in 2010.

Onshore wind turbines

Onshore wind farms also attract significant interest; the visitor centre at Whitelee Wind Farm has received 200,000 visitors since it opened in 2009, while 10,000 visitors a year take the ‘turbine tour’ at the EcoTech Centre in Swaffham, Norfolk.

I have enjoyed visits to the Delabole wind farm in Cornwall and the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, which promotes the benefits of renewable power.

I personally quite like seeing wind turbines on the horizon, as they give me hope for a more sustainable future. And like many people who live in Dorset or enjoy visiting the area, I value this stretch of coastline highly.

Wind farm on the horizon

I wouldn’t want anything to damage the precious Jurassic Coast heritage asset, or threaten the wildlife in this wonderful marine environment.

But climate change is also a key issue for the Jurassic Coast, with higher sea levels, wetter summers and more frequent storms likely to speed up the natural processes of erosion.

Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that coastal areas of the UK are likely to be severely affected by climate change in the future as it poses risks and challenges for people, for coastal economies, and for local industry such as fisheries, agriculture and tourism.

One thing that is certain, is if we don’t invest in clean energy now, climate change will represent a far greater threat to the natural environment, as well as to the livelihoods of disadvantaged coastal communities, than this development could possibly have done.

An island in the Maldives

Without serious action, the impacts of climate change will be far reaching and will impact on us here in Dorset and around the world.

In island nations like the Maldives, rising sea levels threaten not only the country’s tourism-dependent economy but the very existence of the country.

From Arctic polar bears to marine turtles off the coast of Africa, the biodiversity of our beautiful planet is at risk from the impacts of a changing climate.

There is now a scientific consensus that climate change is happening and poses a fundamental threat to places, species and societies.

To adequately address this crisis we must urgently reduce carbon pollution and prepare for the consequences of global warming. This means taking some difficult decisions along the way.

Burton Bradstock on the Jurassic Coast

I would love to know your views. Do you think wind turbines are a blot on the landscape or a symbol of hope? Would you avoid visiting a destination with wind turbines, or would this not even factor in your decision about where to go on holiday? Please comment below.

 

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My name is Emilia - I love versatile trips! You might find me at a trendy new restaurant one night, but the next day you're just as likely to find me at a local market sampling exotic foods. I'm open to just about anything when I travel and I want to encourage you to be open too!