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Viewpoint / Why we’re carrying a coffin along the Lang Kames

Pete Bevington is one of the organisers of Lament for the Lang Kames, a ‘funeral procession’ being held on Saturday for “all that will be lost if Viking Energy goes ahead as planned”. He explains why the procession – coffin and all – is taking place.

A mocked-up image of Viking turbines as they would be seen from the north end of the Lang Kames.

I fell in love with Shetland 31 years ago. I fell in love with the wild landscape, the lively, hospitable people with their dry sense of humour, the powerful community spirit. The sheer energy of the place took me completely by surprise.

Above all, I loved the down to earth humanity that I found here. People might not always agree with each other but they seemed to treat each other as equals and would bury their differences and pull together in a crisis.

Perhaps I was naïve, but it has come as a real shock to witness the bitter divisions and mistrust that have built up since I arrived on these shores all those years ago.

There have been so many battles that have torn people apart – the bridge to Bressay, the school closures and for the past 14 years, the Viking Energy wind farm project.

The winter I arrived in Shetland a wind turbine in Scalloway blew down in a gale, ironically because a power cut stopped the brakes from working. There was a turbine towering over Voe that never turned.

Then Shetland Aerogenerators erected five turbines at Burradale. It looked as though the islands were stepping into the new world of renewable energy at last. What was there not to like? My partner Jan even described them as The Angels of Burradale.

But not all angels bring light into our lives.

When I first heard about plans to build a wind farm, to export renewable energy, to make money for the community, to connect Shetland to the national grid, to remove our dependence on a dirty power station in Lerwick, it made total sense to me and I applauded the scheme. What was there not to like?

But as it became clear how big this wind farm would have to be to justify the phenomenal expense of an interconnector cable, and the impact it would have on the landscape, the wildlife and people’s lives, the dark clouds of doubt started appearing over the horizon.

The trouble was, it soon turned out, there was no going back. A private deal had already been signed and Shetland Charitable Trust had already invested £10 million. No public debate whatsoever.

We were told this was a community wind farm, but the community had not been consulted. And when Viking did finally go out to consultation in March 2007 they were given a massive shock by the opposition they faced.

The council had assumed that the people of Shetland, or at least the vast majority, would think this was a marvellous idea. They were wrong, but it was too late. They were already committed.

So for the past 10 years a battle has raged between islanders who feel they have been treated with utter contempt and their local council, the Scottish government and the legal system. Justice? What justice? We were not even allowed an inquiry to thrash out the pros and cons in public.

While Shetland remains committed to Viking Energy, we continue to ignore every other avenue for developing a renewable energy system that would not disfigure the landscape, disturb the wildlife and blight local communities. A renewable energy system the people of Shetland could be proud of.

It feels as though Viking Energy has brought nothing but grief into our lives – so much anger, so much frustration, so much division even among environmentalists like us. It’s incredibly sad.

That’s why we will be helping to carry a coffin along the Lang Kames on Saturday. It will help us honour that grief, the sadness we feel about what has happened to this community since Viking Energy appeared over the horizon.

Weather permitting, we will be walking the five miles from Sandwater to Voe where we will hold a short ceremony to express our grief and let it go up in flames as we burn the coffin, as requested by Anne Goudie who has kindly donated the family business’ “carrying coffin” for the occasion – a coffin made by the Goudie family more than 70 years ago that has carried hundreds of Shetlanders over the years.

This is not a protest march. We hope it will help those who attend to let go of at least some of our grief, anger and frustration and perhaps even start to heal some of those divisions. If we can bury our differences maybe we can stop fighting and find a way forward together as a community during these extraordinary times of environmental, political and economic breakdown – this climate emergency.

Never has it been more important that we pull together as a community. Please join us.

For more information about the procession, check out Extinction Rebellion Shetland on Facebook.