Three wind farms are planned for the area in the north east of Scotland. A public inquiry is to examine plans by Renewable Energy Systems (RES) and Micon for 17 and 20 turbines respectively near Helmsdale. Meanwhile Borderwind is awaiting a decision from Highland Regional Council over its proposal for eight turbines at nearby Crakaig.
The ballot was commissioned by local opposition group The People of Loth and conducted by the Electoral Reform Society. A total of 73% of all ballot papers were returned -- an unusually high rate of return for any referendum. Respondents were asked just one question: "Do you want wind turbine towers to be built on the coastal hills of east Sutherland between Brora and the Ord of Caithness, now or in the future?" Voters from the immediate area around Helmsdale produced a response rate of 84%, of which a resounding 71% said no.
Diana Royce from The People of Loth says the high response shows the strength of local opinion. "The developers came in ignorance. They did not understand that we had a tourist industry," she says. "We have beautiful scenery. It is the only thing we have got."