Shetland’s natural environment has been recognised by many organisations, including Scottish Natural Heritage, UNESCO, the John Muir Trust, National Geographic and the Lonely Planet, as home to some of the last unspoilt areas of natural beauty on the planet.
However, recognition of our natural heritage comes at a price because we live in one of the most fragile and vulnerable natural environments in northern Europe.
In 1978 the Shetland Islands Council had miscalculated the degree of environmental constraints required when Sullom Voe Oil Terminal was commissioned and before the Esso Bernicia was holed, spilling 1,174 tons of heavy bunker oil.
Considerable areas of the coastline of Sullom Voe and Yell Sound were polluted and the necessary clean-up operations took over six months to complete. In some respects the clean-up operations were more damaging than the oil spill. Today, over 33 years later, erosion damage accelerated by the clean-up operations is still evident along the shores of Yell Sound and Sullom Voe.
This of course pales into insignificance when compared with the environmental threat posed by the massive civil engineering project planned by Viking Energy.
The scenic moorland and unique limestone valleys of the central Mainland are even more fragile than our coastline and damage caused here will be very much more in your face.
Especially so for those unfortunate enough to live within the windfarm and less than two kilometres from 74 of the 127 towering turbines.
Even more frightening is the fact that the majority of the windfarm area is recognised by the Scottish government and the British Geological Survey as being of significant peat-slide risk.
Shetland Islands councillors, acting on behalf of Viking Energy, have repeatedly voted to threaten our natural environment like never before in our history. They voted to stop any further public consultation on the windfarm when the addendum was published.
They voted to over-rule the expert advice of their own planning department, which recommended refusal of the project on environmental and visual grounds and because it contravenes SIC planning policy.
They chose to dismiss the need for a health impact assessment and voted not to trigger a public inquiry. They voted against the advice from the community councils that represent the people who live within the windfarm area by voting to approve building the vast converter complex in Kergord.
Contrary to what Viking Energy likes to pretend, it is not just Sustainable Shetland that recognises the environmental threats of the windfarm development but the wider Shetland community as well.
There are in fact over 2,700 objections with the ECU, mostly from Shetland, and that includes those from Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB, the John Muir Trust, Shetland Amenity Trust, tourism businesses, etc.
No-one is saying that Shetland should not embrace renewable energy, be it wind, wave or tidal, and no-one is saying that we shouldn’t have a connector cable to Scotland. What is being said by all is that the windfarm is environmentally in the wrong place and of the wrong scale for the central Mainland to accommodate.
If there had been a proper investigation in the first place into the best environmental route for Shetland to embrace all forms of renewables, then this divisive, reckless gamble by our councillors with our environment, and our charitable trust money, need never have happened.
If Viking Energy and its supporting councillors have miscalculated, and all indications are that they have, then the consequences will be much, much more environmentally damaging and long-lasting than from the Esso Bernicia.
There is no doubt that Shetland Island councillors have totally abdicated their responsibilities to Shetland’s environment. They have done this by failing to engage with the public and by blocking the demand for a public local inquiry.
Because of their irresponsible actions the future of Shetland’s natural heritage now is in the hands of just one person, SNP energy minister Jim Mather. Unfortunately Mr Mather seems to be under the impression that because nine out of our 22 councillors have voted to say the windfarm plans are okay then it must be so.
If this windfarm gets the Scottish minister’s go-ahead, despite all the environmental objections and massive community opposition, then a precedent is set and nowhere in Scotland is safe, no matter how beautiful or fragile an area may be.
On Saturday there is a rally in Lerwick in support of Shetland’s environment. This rally is now the very last chance for the Shetland public to get their voices heard in Edinburgh against the destruction of their natural heritage. If you value your unique landscape then Lerwick is the place to be on Saturday morning.