Fears are rising in Wales about the threat posed to the equine tourism industry by the ever-increasing number of wind turbines appearing on the horizons of West Wales, as the BHS and Welsh Equine Council, the representative body for equine businesses in Wales, call for local authorities to “strike a balance”.
The majority of wind farms in Wales are concentrated in West Wales, but as the results of a public inquiry into a proposed wind energy scheme near Brecon are anxiously awaited, equestrian businesses around the country are becoming increasingly concerned about the encroaching threat.
Chairman of the Welsh Equine Council, Martyn Williams, explains: “Even if you accept that wind turbines are a necessity these days, the location has to be balanced with common sense. Wind farms are going to become more and more of an issue, and should be dealt with carefully.”
Matt Williams, a driving force behind Free Rein, one of the most successful equine tourism businesses in Wales, is adamant that wind energy schemes can only do harm to business.
“Firstly, there is the question of them being a huge eyesore. People come to the countryside to enjoy the countryside, not to see a semi-industrialised landscape,” says Matt.
“Then, there is the more important question, at least as far as we are concerned, of the effect on horses. The horses don’t like them very much, and there are often relatively inexperienced riders, and we just wouldn’t be able to take any risks.”
Although the arguments for wind farms are manifold, the disadvantages are crystal clear and becoming ever more so. The shape and size of the turbines cause disturbance and the noise, the bizarre shadows and the sunlight flickering through the blades are all particularly upsetting for horses.
A spokeswoman for the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) denies that there is any problem, claiming there is little noise, and the questions of shadow and sunlight have been dealt with. She concludes: “there is absolutely no evidence to suggest wind farms pose a problem for the equine tourism industry.
“In over 20 years experience with more than 50,000 machines installed around the world, there has been no evidence to suggest that wind turbines pose any threat to horses or their riders. The noise is negligible, and studies show that the flickering light and moving shadows are not really an issue.”
But evidence from riders in Wales suggests the contrary. Experienced rider Sian Hawkins wrote to Country Guardian, the National Campaign to oppose wind turbines, expressing her thoughts on the matter:
“As well as the constant pulse beating there was a hissing swish of boring regularity, and on top of all that was an occasional low-pitched roaring as if a slow-moving lorry were approaching somewhere behind me. I also heard one or two loud metallic clanking noises during the walk from a couple of turbines.”
And the wind farms are causing further disruption, with reports of bridleways fenced off and gates padlocked: “We have had problems on one of the wind farms north of Machynlleth,” says Matt Williams. “We had to cut our way along the bridle path.”
Free Rein has had a lucky escape so far, with the majority of wind energy schemes concentrated in West Wales. But, says Matt, the outcome of a recent public inquiry into a proposal for a scheme at Llethercynon near Brecon could determine the future of the eastern areas of Wales.
“Of course it is said that even if the Llethercynon proposal were to be accepted it wouldn’t set a precedent, but it would, and there are so many proposals which hinge on the outcome.”
David Thomas, who runs the Heart of Wales Riding School in Powys is adamant that from his point of view, and from the point of view of tourists bringing their horses to Wales to ride on the Great Cambrian Trail Network, the risks are too great to contemplate, particularly in this litigious day and age:
”Certainly as the responsible owner of a riding school I would never contemplate taking riders through a wind farm – the risks would be far too great, and the matter of insurance if anything were to happen is somewhat blurred,” he says.
Wendy Davies, development officer for BHS Cymru is concerned about the potential consequences for equestrian businesses in Wales. “There is a quite substantial equine industry in Wales and farmers are being encouraged to diversify, but it is undoubtedly the case that these wind farms could have a huge impact on the industry,” she says.
“The problem is that since the issue has arisen relatively recently, it may be that the effects are not felt for some time, and obviously one of the greatest questions is the rate at which the number of wind turbines is increasing,” she added.
“Access to the countryside must not be limited, and as long as there is an urgent need to get horses off the roads, a balance must be struck to allow for an adequate safety margin, which should be taken into consideration at planning stages.”