There are currently around 88,000 electricity pylons in the UK. However, these pylons are about to be joined by thousands more as our current national grid system is updated. As our old power network approaches obsolescence, the proposed spread of pylons across Britain’s iconic rural landscapes has met with much resistance.
So, why are these further intrusions on our crowded landscape necessary? To meet EU Sustainability targets, one quarter of our existing power stations must be closed down and replaced with greener renewable solutions. One of the most favoured yet most contested alternatives is wind energy. Clean, cheap and renewable, wind energy is often heralded as the renewable saviour of time yet it requires a specific set of preconditions which are often disputed. Unlike non-renewable energy sources, wind farms and other environmentally friendly alternatives are located in remote areas to maximise energy efficiency and production. Unfortunately, these remote rural locations are often extremely far away from residential and business districts. An increase in renewable energy plants has therefore amplified the necessity for additional electricity pylons to connect the remote renewable energy supply to demand.
Since the National Grid’s propositions began in 2010, numerous pressure groups from Mid-Wales to Suffolk have begun to campaign against the proposed “invasion” (Heap, 2011) of pylons in their rural communities. Following the innovative new design of Icelandic pylons, the National Grid launched a 2011 national competition to redesign the structures in the hope of making them more palatable to the eye.
We must consider however if such eye catching structures are the right approach to take? It could be argued that these impressive pieces of engineering are more suited to the National Gallery than rural Suffolk. Many suggest therefore that this proposed structural incursion will not only become a visual eyesore for local residents but also have the potential to disrupt local businesses which rely on the ‘natural’ state of the landscape to attract tourism to the area. On BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth, Tom Heap interviewed a local resident who claimed that although National Grid has held two public consultations, the anxieties expressed by local communities are “still largely being ignored” (Heap, 2011). The resistance to pylons has occurred since the birth of the national electricity supply in 1927 whereby a group of local residents from Somerset articulately compared them to “nude giant girls that have no secrets” (CPRW, 2012) in a letter to the Times. Here local residents appear to be experiencing an injustice as their views and opinions are side-lined in favour of meeting EU targets.
Some may claim however that such opposition and intense feeling of injustice stems from the “not in my back yard” theory whereby if the issue was transferred elsewhere, it would no longer cause a dispute. However, if we analyse this situation through a geographical lens, the scheme becomes much more than a simple disruption of local scenery. As geographers it is imperative to recognise that not only does the intrusion of a pylon disrupt the visual aesthetics of an area, it also has the potential to modify our entire social construction of the rural idyll and rural landscape. British identity is synonymous with the rolling hills, green pastures and quaint open spaces yet the proposed inclusion of huge concrete structures upon this idyllic scenery has the potential to destroy the entire notion of the British rural idyll. From this approach then, we could see the proposed scheme as not only an injustice for local residents but also for British citizens.
This policy has the potential to completely reshape the aesthetics and symbolism of our rural countryside and the face of Britain for generations to come. Heap therefore calls for this scheme to become part of a “national debate”(2011) which we must, as both geographers and UK citizens, continue to take a vested interest in.
BBC Look East report on Suffolk protests against pylons (begins 2 minutes into clip)
Anon (2011) Mid and west Wales power protesters at Senedd, BBC News, Avaliable: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-13498707 Last Accessed 07/03/2012
Benson, M. (2010), Landscape, imagination and experience: processes of emplacement among the British in rural France. The Sociological Review, 58: 61–77
Bunkse, E. (2007) ‘Feeling is believing, or landscape as a way of being in the world’, Geografiska Annaler, Vol. 89, pp.219-231
Geere, D. (2010) Human pylons carry electricity across Iceland, Avaliable: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-08/16/human-pylons, Last Accessed 07/03/2012
Heep, T. (2011) March of the Pylons, ‘Costing the Earth’, BBC Radio 4, Last Broadcast 20/10/2011
Holland, D. (2012) Stour Valley Underground, Avaliable: http://www.stourvalleyunderground.org.uk/, Last Accessed 07/03/2012
National Grid. (2012) Major Infrastructure Projects, Avaliable: http://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/Electricity/MajorProjects/ Last Accessed 07/03/2012
Wylie, J. (2005) A Single Day’s Walking: Narrating itself and lanscape on the Southwest Coast Path, Transactions of the Instititue British Geographers, 30 (2), pp.234-247
- Anon. (2012) Wind Farm, Suffolk. Avaliabe:http://www.windjobsuk.com/wind-farm-jobs.cms.asp Last Accessed: 07/03/2012
- Anon (2012) Iclandic Wind Farms, Avaliabel: http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/09/29/when-pressed-abbott-discovers-he-has-a-pair/ Last Accessed: 07/03/2012
- Anon (2012) Wind Farms Scottish Highlands, Avaliable: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jan/31/burying-electric-pylons-cheaper-government Last Accessed 07/03/2012