Watten wind farm event highlights issues related to archaeological sites – can the old and the new coexist?
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A public event at Watten village hall on Wednesday afternoon highlighted an aspect of wind farm construction related to archaeological sites in Caithness.
The RWE team leading the Camster II project held a drop-in session at the hall and Susan Taylor from Orkney travelled across the Pentland Firth in her vintage 2CV car to attend the event.
Ms Taylor is studying archaeology at UHI Orkney and said: "As part of my degree I had to build a fictitious wind farm from an environmental perspective and do an environmental impact assessment, so I wanted to come along and see how it's done for real.
"I'm also interested in the technology of geographical information systems and how these things are prepared and mitigated. It's really good to ask questions in a real environment."
Ms Taylor talked about how the wind farm can also affect archaeological sites and the "visual amenity" of people visiting these places. "Personally, they [wind farms] don't bother me and I love the contrast between the old and the new. We do need to have renewable energy and it's essential that we don't destroy the planet. If we can work in partnership with developers to make these sites better and improve accessibility, and the price of that is a few turbines, then I'm totally pro that."
Ms Taylor thinks that the turbines are so common now that they "blend in with the landscape" and she hardly notices them anyway. "I don't think we can allow ourselves to be isolated from what's going on around us. I came down from Orkney where there are lots of Neolithic sites but we have to understand that if we're going to have a planet to enjoy then we have to take steps – if one of these is turbines then we have to look at the bigger picture."
She also highlighted the possible developments that could improve archaeological sites that come via funding opportunities available through community funding from wind farm projects. The ongoing excavations at Swartigill near Thrumster, for example, has benefited from grants distributed by Tannach and District Wind Farm Trust.
Nick Taylor, RWE stakeholder manager, deals with community consultation and engagement for onshore wind farms in Scotland. "Camster II is a consented site and we did all of our public consultation during the planning process and before we started construction we wanted to come along and invite the public to meet the team."
One of the team at Watten village hall was Roddy Stoney who works with the civil engineering contractor involved in the wind farm's construction. Mr Stoney says that his company is Northern Irish based but that local subcontractors will be sourced for the project as well. "We've got to build the substation that the cables tie into and then there's got to be a connection back to Mybster substation to connect to the grid," he said.
"A lot of the ground we've been working on has been commercial forestry so there are sometimes archaeological features but, generally, the forestry have already identified them and segregated them. They can also be hidden by the forestry and it can be difficult to find them."
He added that the project will not involve the "clearfelling" of woodland and described the plan as involving "keyholing" of individual trees in the immediate vicinity of the turbines and the roads.
The Watten session was well-attended by the local community, who took the opportunity to talk to the expert team members and ask questions about the wind farm. Planning consent was granted in July 2021 and the team is finalising all the agreements needed to begin construction. These agreements are now close to being completed and construction of the initial site tracks and construction compound can now begin.
A spokesperson for RWE said: "The development team discussed the on-site works in September and will ensure to continue to keep people informed through the build stages. The 10-turbine site will be located in Caithness near our existing operational project, Camster, and could be capable of producing up to 36MW of electricity."