Magical Glen Etive Part 2
Posted on 10th March, 2019
The image above is from the roadside at the South end of Glen Etive, looking towards Ben Starav. There is a proposed hydro scheme which would have a significant adverse visual impact on this designated wild land, which I have written about here. The purpose of this article is to highlight that there is also a proposed hydro scheme on the Allt Ceitlein, which is accessed from this same spot. This would mean that anyone doing the spectacular walk up the Allt Mheuran to Ben Starav, on to Stob Coir' an Albannaich and Meall na Eun, and then down Glen Ceitlein (and vice versa), would experience roads, dams, and damage from pipeline installation in both glens (I have marked the new permanent roads on this popular hillwalking route in an image at the end of this article). This would completely remove the wild land experience. Glen Etive is one of Scotland's most magical glens - in the opinion of many, it could be its finest. It sits within the Ben Nevis and Glen Coe National Scenic Area, the Glen Etive and Glen Fyne Special Protection Area and within Wild Land Area 9 Loch Etive Mountains. Glen Etive is visble from Glen Coe, and its wild land and wonderful setting are all part of the truly magical experience of the area; Glen Etive has an important impact on the views and experience from many of the peaks in the Ben Nevis and Glen Coe National Scenic Area.
For those involved making planning decisions, there will be a number of factors to consider, including renewable energy targets. My personal hope is that a responsible and balanced decision can be made - and that the 3 schemes planned for designated wild land areas are rejected. We all have a responsibility to look after our planet, but destroying areas of outstanding natural beauty with micro hydro schemes is in my view not responsible, and not appropriate, and it would result in a warped outcome - destroying exactly what we are seeking to preserve (our planet). Tourists, and many types of outdoor recreational visitors (importantly including locals) should be allowed to enjoy what is surely one of the most beautiful parts of Europe, and so should the next generation and beyond. I visited the Allt Ceitlein a few days ago on a very wet and windy day in the 'low season'. It was telling that despite this, there were a lot of people enjoying this part of the glen - either from the road, or on the hills.
In the image above, I have marked in red the PERMANENT ROAD to be built to access the Allt Mheuran (there is only a small path on this section at present). The blue cross is the approximate site of a powerhouse which is proposed to have a steel roof. The green line is the approximate location of the access track and pipeline. The access track is supposed to be removed, but the plans do not address how the granite rock structures will be preserved (they won't - parts of them will be forever destroyed). I hope it is clear to the viewer that this is not an appropriate location for roads and buildings. In fact, could there be a less appropriate location?
The planning documents note that “Whether the visual effect is perceived as positive or negative depends upon individual preferences, the context in which a person experiences the view…”. It is highly unlikely that typical visitors to this glen and recreational users will perceive this as positive. The context of this land is that it feels wild, and that is what attacts so many visitors from near and far, including outdoor enthusiasts.
An argument I have heard put forward by one of the Councillors who voted in favour of all 7 schemes is that this land is not wild (it is "very heavily managed by man") so essentially it is acceptable to build. It's true that this image is made from the side of a small road. It's true that Glen Etive has been impacted by forestry schemes, and there are fences. But if you look from this roadside spot, what you see is wild land (both literally and technically). If you walk for 5 minutes from this spot, what you experience is wild land. To build roads here would dramatically extend the visual human impact, erode the sense of wild land, and start the disease whereby someone in future argues that the land higher up is 'not wild'.
The walk to Glen Ceitlein is extremely beautiful, with fine views of the River Etive, and Glen Coe in the distance. Walking up the Allt Ceitlein, as with the Allt Mheuran, there are spectacular rock formations, as shown in the image above (admittedly taken on a very dreich day in flat light!). It's important to note that the flow of water is a key part of the experience here - flowing over the rock structures, forming pristeen icy-looking pools. To remove and/or significantly reduce the flowing water via a pipeline will undermine this landscape - this is just as bad a visual impact as roads, arguably worse, because these beautiful streams/rivers are part of the soul and essence of this wild land, including the sound of rushing water.
Above is an example of the lovely rock structures in the Allt Ceitlein, looking towards the hill of Meall Odhar in the distance. Although this is only a short distance up the glen, the sense of wild land is palpable. However, if the plans go ahead, there will be a road visible in this scene (on the left hand side, leading up the glen).
The image above is looking up Glen Ceitlein. On the left, you can see the remains of old enclosures, and a bit further along the river, there are more archeological remains - shielings and, according to a recent survey, a 9th century burial cairn. You can also see four hillwalkers who were heading up Meall na Eun, then Ben Starav, and down the Allt Mheuran. If the proposals for the 3 wild land schemes in Glen Etive go ahead, they and many other walkers doing this 'round', will have to contend with roads and dams on the way in - and out.
The image above shows where I believe the access road is planned to be built - in the plans it goes straight over the remains. Can you imagine this beautiful wild glen with a road going up the side of it?! And what about the historical and archaeological importance of the enclosures, shielings and possible 9th century burial cairn? These remains, in their current state, with no road, are beautiful and evocative, and are an important part of the historical context of this wild land. I cannot see anything in the plans about preserving the enclosures, other than a road goes over them! Perhaps worst of all, the road is planned to go up the side of the glen, not along the river. THIS WILL HAVE A SIGNIFICANT AND VERY DETRIMENTAL VISUAL IMPACT and create permanent scarring which is unacceptable for a wild land area.
The plans note that "There is an existing ATV track from the turbine house to the intakes, this is to be widened and improved for construction access" - as far as I could see, this is not the case. There is an old farm track at the bottom of the glen. However, up at this part of the glen, there appears to be no road/track, merely a footpath. Oddly, there is a small section of track by where the planned primary intake is. Unlike the Allt Mheuran and Allt Chaorainn schemes, the developer is going to leave a permanent new track in place - why can this be in any way acceptable?
The plans note that the access road "largely follows the route of an existing footpath" - note that the language here is more accurate (use of the term footpath), however, as shown on the map at the end, the new road would cut up the side of the glen, and substantially deviates from the footpath.
The image above is at the site of the proposed primary intake. There is planned to be a secondary intake not far upstream from here. Notice the lovely views to the hills (this is a popular walking access route for several munros), and the lack of visual human impact.
This image is looking down Glen Ceitlein from the proposed site of the primary intake. It's a beautiful spot.
Well - it may not be beautiful for much longer if a dam and road are built, as illustrated above. Again - please note that the dam and road are approximate based on my interpretation of the plans.
The image above is from just above the primary intake, and near the secondary intake.
The image above is from just above the primary intake, and near the secondary intake. This is very much wild land (and weather!).
The image above shows the route up the Allt Mheuran to Ben Starav, then round and descending via Glen Ceitlein. The section in red would be new road! The bits in purple are planned new bridges (one bridge currently is a descrete wooden one for walkers only). These bridges will be for heavy vehicles, including...bulldozers (that's from the planning documents). I've marked the approximate intake sites in yellow. In green is the access road where the landsape will supposedly be 'restored'.
Let's look to the future a little. What happens when, inevitably, the dams and pipes expire. What happens to this formerly magnificent landscape? Well, the developer may very well not exist any more. Even if the developer does exist, as far as I can see, the wording states that "Reinstatement shall include the removal of the above ground infrastructures and restoration of the ground and restoration of the natural water regime to normal flows". This does not appear to stipulate clearly that any road must be reinstated, and to what standards.
The image above shows the amazing granite rock formations in Glen Ceitlein. If the hydro scheme goes ahead, as far as I can tell typical reduction of water flow is between approximately 70% and 90%. Only on days of extremely high or low flow is the river approaching its usual levels, but even on these days, the flow will be reduced by 20-25%. The reduction in flow not only affects the perception of the river’s wild nature – its look as well as its sound – but it also limits the river’s ability to clean itself. Plants, lichen and algae will encroach on the edges of clean rock, and what is now pristine pink Etive plutonic granite will become either green or black from algae and lichen. Eventually, it will become overgrown with soil and grasses. The soul of this glen will be ruined.
Above is another image of the Allt Ceitlein, showing the beautiful rock formations. Clearly, flowing water is an essential part of the character of this wild land. If the hydro scheme is approved, this will become a trickle for most of the year, and it will become overgrown. This, and a road up the glen, is clearly not appropriate for wild land.
As the John Muir Trust recently wrote in relation to the planed micro hydro schemes for Glen Etive, there is a John Muir quote on the wall of the Scottish Parliament saying "The battle for conservation will go on endlessly. It is part of the universal battle between right and wrong." I hope a decision will be made which balances up appropriate micro hydro schemes with avoiding inappropriate ones and thus preserving the wild land areas. Future generations would thank and respect decision makers for this.