Mòinteach gun Mhuileann - Moorland without Turbines
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A Local View


Author Anne Campbell was brought up in Bragar, on the west of Lewis, where her family has lived for centuries. After ten years in Edinburgh, during which she studied painting at the Edinburgh College of Art, she came back to the Isles and ran a business manufacturing tweed in Harris.  Nine years ago, she returned to Bragar to live on a croft. She says, ‘I am part-time artist, part-time laboratory assistant – and keep sheep and grow vegetables on the croft’.
The feeling of wilderness ..........

The large wind-power sites planned for the Lewis moor would result not only in the physical loss of large areas of moorland but the loss of tranquillity and the feeling of wilderness of the rest. People may not realize that an intrinsic part of the culture of Lewis could also be lost.

Lewis villages stretch inland from the coast through croftland, the peat-cutting areas and out to moorland grazings. You can be in the next village a quarter of a mile along the coast road – but still in your own village five miles out on the moor.

Nowadays, people live on the coast but, in the past, before the peat reached its present extent, it is recorded in folk memory that people lived inland. In my village, I have found pottery in a mound which is being eroded by a moorland river which I have been told could date to the Bronze Age. The people who made and used this pottery are likely to be the direct ancestors of the people living here now.

Although most of Lewis belongs legally to landlords, the people who live here and who have been here for countless generations believe that the land is morally theirs.
Since the Crofters Act of 1886 gave crofters security of tenure, the rights of the people to the land have not been challenged (at least in this area) – until now.
People have always been one of Lewis’s biggest exports, whether the emigration was forced, as at times in the 18th and 19th centuries, or voluntary and/or economic. Island life has never suited everyone and the people who live here now, whether indigenous or recent arrivals, are here through choice.
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In my family, my two grandfathers returned to Bragar from Canada and the USA, my father from southeast England and my sister and I from Edinburgh. We returned because of our love of the place and because of the superior quality of life available here. This is a common pattern.

The uses of moorland Peat-cutting

Though many in Lewis still cut peat for fuel, the peat-cutting areas are the main sites chosen by AMEC for their turbines, presumably because crofters have already made tracks to these areas and the peat is shallower where it has been cut for fuel.

Around these tracks, the same areas have been used by families for peat cutting for many years: our peat-banks were begun by my great-uncle, continued by my parents and are now used by my sister and I.

As a long-term investment, they are carefully managed. First, the top turf is removed and placed below the bank where the peat was cut last year so that it will re-grow and also make a firm track for the
tractor. The banks and tracks are carefully designed so that the tracks follow firm ground and do not interfere with watercourses and make bogs in which livestock could drown.

Turfing begins in April and the banks are normally cut in May. In June and July, when the moor is at its driest and after various stages of turning and gathering, the peats are taken home and stacked. Each stage of the job and each part of the bank has its own name in Gaelic.

For most people, peat is no longer the most economical way to heat houses or cook: they cut peats partly for enjoyment. Our peats are bythe Bragar River. It is idyllic out there on a spring day with the skylarks and meadow pipits singing and the curlew displaying overhead, the whistling of the golden plover (which my mother used to tell us said ‘samhradh cridheach, the e a' tighinn’ – a hearty summer, it is coming), the call of the sandpiper from the river and the red grouse from the heather, perhaps seeing lapwing or ringed plover chicks by the track or river, an eagle soaring overhead or a merlin swooping by.

We’ve been told that we can still cut peats beneath the turbines or move to another area if our banks are destroyed. But neither option holds much appeal.

Shielings

In the past, the crofters’ cattle were taken out to the moorland pastures in the centre of the island in May, returning to the villages in August. The cattle were herded mainly by old people and children who lived in small stone and turf bothies called shielings. The middle generation mainly stayed in the villages to work and tend the crops. This transhumance more or less died out in the 1950s but their time on the shielings in the interior of the Lewis Peatlands is remembered with great fondness and nostalgia by the generation who spent their childhood summers there.

Many people still use their family shielings not out of practical necessity but as a place of peace and tranquillity, to rest for a time, much like a Zen hermitage. Those in Ness and along the Pentland Road will be greatly affected, and may even be destroyed, by the AMEC scheme.

Grazing

While it is now unusual to graze cattle on the moor, many people still use it to graze sheep, which return to the areas they know (often around the family shieling) year after year. Those who herd and gather these sheep know the peatlands better than anyone else and provide a link with its traditions, place-names and stories.

Some people see the Lewis moor as a barren featureless expanse of no value (the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Pentland Road wind-power site calls the north Lewis moor ‘very large and rather bland’). But to those who know them, each mound, pool, stream, shieling-site and slope is named and many have stories associated with them. These names were, and still are, as useful as the street signs in cities for negotiating one’s way around, describing where something is to be found or where a particular route can be taken.

Some names describe features which can no longer be seen above ground, such as Gàrradh na Croit, An Gàrradh Droma – old stock walls; others are descriptive, e.g. Loch Àirigh na h-Aon Oidhche – the loch of the shieling of one night; many are Norse, e.g. Suainagadail, Stacaisal while others are of unknown origin, like Beinn a’ Bhoghalan or Ishiboi.

Fishing

Fishing for brown trout (and the occasional salmon) is another activity which takes people out to the moorland. The myriad of lochs and rivers attract fishermen who enjoy walking to roam the island’s interior, and for some fishing becomes the excuse for spending days out on the moor.

Tourism

Many people holiday on Lewis for the peace and quiet, the views and the beaches, for walking on the coast or in the hills of the southern part of the island. By comparison, the north Lewis moorland is difficult terrain and may seem uninviting at first. But once you are out of site of the road you are into a different world, hearing nothing but the wind blowing through the vegetation and the call of the birds, seeing nothing but the grasses rippling in the wind and the shadows of passing clouds.

There is endless variety of detail: river and stream valleys, deep, dark pools, sandy-shored lochs, shieling mounds, carnivorous flowers, jewel-bright mosses, lichens, iridescent beetles, dragonflies, caterpillars, moths, birds’ nests, etc. Many people would appreciate being taken out onto the moor in the same way as people enjoy going into the Sahara Desert or the Mongolian Steppes.

Once you have been out in the remote Lewis moorland, its atmosphere stays with you forever. It is not too much of a leap of faith to see local peoples’ relationship with the moorland in the same way as the relationship of the aboriginals of Australia to their land: mythology and experience combine to produce a living world which exists vividly both in the present and in memory and imagination. If we allow the peatlands to be destroyed, an important part of the island’s culture will go with them.

“Bogs are the liveliest elements in the European landscape, not just from the point of view of flora, fauna, birds and animals, but as strong places of life, mystery and chemical change, preservers of ancient history” Joseph Beuys, Eine Aktion im Moor (Bog Action), 1971

Note 1 Peat has a long history on Lewis – 7900 years according to Stewart Angus in The Outer Hebrides, Moor and Machair. The Bronze Age lasted from c2,300BC to c700BC and peat growth accelerated after that.






The North Lewis Windfarm Survey Group: The true facts

"for a community united in their opposition to the North Lewis Windfarm proposal by AMEC/Lewis Windpower"

by Dina Murray, Lewis Crofter

Like many other residents on Lewis, I became more aware and seriously concerned about the monstrous windfarm proposed for our island during the latter half of last year (2003). There was much more publicity about this scheme in national publications, since 2001, than in our own local newspapers.

There was precious little information, then - or now - from our local council. Indeed, it seemed they were more concerned with NOT informing us about the realities of Amec's plans for our island. They, and our MP (Calum Macdonald) and MSP (Alasdair Morrison) blithely issued press statements - nationally - emphasising how much "support" and "enthusiasm" and "excitement" there was on Lewis for the Amec proposal - without one single shred of evidence that this was true. The Web has played a significant part in our discovery of these unrepresentative statements - and we have been able as a result to pinpoint with some accuracy those who were responsible for portraying us as being "all in favour of the Amec proposal" - when they had no mandate to do so, or any evidence to back their statements.

And then came my personal D-Day - 10th June - when Amec arrived with their last glossy "presentation" to Ness Hall, in the north of Lewis. Suddenly, we all became aware of exactly what was planned for our beautiful, protected moorland - 240 giant turbines, each 140M (460 ft) high, scheduled for construction in a line stretching from Skigersta in the north, to Barvas, and across the Barvas moor to the outskirts of Stornoway. Nowhere is spared from this onslaught. There is no village that will not be affected - these enormous structures will be visible to every single person who lives here. It was at this point my worst fears were also confirmed - Amec plans to completely destroy a part of our moorland which is rich in heritage, and possibly of great archaeological significance - ancient, and not so ancient "shielings" are selected as prime sites for the construction of these horrendous structures, and any site not designated for turbine construction, would be destroyed in any case by the roads, drains, ditches, sub-stations, buildings, platforms, and of course the giant pylons which would complete the industrialisation of our beautiful moor.

I came back home that evening, greatly distressed by what I had seen. My memories of precious times spent on these shielings (which my family, and many others still regularly inhabit throughout the summer months) threatened to completely overwhelm me. Memories flooded back of my mother, in failing health, making her annual pilgrimage to Allt an t-Sulaire, where her native (Port of Ness) village had their shielings. Here she would lay another stone upon a cairn, which she'd started building many years previously, on the ruins of her family shieling. Both my parents died in 1979, and our family continues this tradition every year since then.

This is one of Amec's chosen sites. And I realised with horror that Amec, supported by our local council, and the Scottish Executive, would indeed drive their enormous trucks and diggers and dumpers and lorries right through every site on our moorland which is so precious not only to my family, but to the whole island, because these sites represent the unique lifestyle of generations past, and should indeed be preserved as part of our heritage. Some of the sites are listed, or scheduled monuments - a fact which does not appear to concern either the Council or Amec. The leases signed between Amec, and the Estates, state that no one can live in any "building" on the lease properties (and in any case not within 500M of a turbine), or "construct any new building" without Amec's prior consent!

The next day I spoke with my neighbours and friends, and found unanimous opposition to the proposal. We realised that our council were never going to "consult with the community" and so this small survey of the village of North Galson became the initiation of the North Lewis Windfarm Survey Group. Other villages indicated their willingness to join us, and people were found in every village from the Butt of Lewis to Bragar to carry out the survey, which was conducted over a period of about 6 weeks (no mean feat, as 34 villages were surveyed involving the interviewing of over 1,400 people). The results were staggering, as nearly 90% of those interviewed were emphatically opposed to Amec's scheme. Politicians and officials have tried to dismiss this result as "not scientific" (whatever that means!) But this is the voice of the North Lewis Community, and we are now united to oppose this scheme, and every such scheme, in order to protect our moorland, and all the species and habitats that depend on it. No amount of "community benefit" could ever compensate for the permanent destruction of this precious heritage.

Final Results - Note: Only Bragar and Arnol surveyed in Shawbost ward
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