Friday 23 February 2024

Communications in the Hills: Masts or Satellites?

A communications mast is proposed for this area in Abernethy nature reserve.

Since I wrote about the threat to wild land from phone masts last November more and more of them are being proposed. The latest I’ve seen is one planned not far from Ryvoan Bothy on the RSPB’s Abernethy nature reserve. The RSPB has been posting about this on social media and says “the proposed mast would include two wind turbines, a solar array, a backup generator and a short stretch of new track”. The RSPB is concerned it “could have a negative impact on Golden Eagles, Black Grouse and Red-throated Divers”. It would also be a gross intrusion in a beautiful area in the Cairngorms National Park.

A 27.5 metre mast is proposed here in the Monadhliath Wild Land Area

Another recent proposal is for a 27.5m high telecommunications mast along with 2 x 15m wind turbines and 36 solar panels in the heart of BrewDog’s Lost Forest in the Monadhliath Wild Land Area. This was flagged up by Parkswatch Scotland, and is No.8 in its excellent series on unacceptable telecommunications masts. The developers assert that telecommunications in such remote uninhabited areas are “essential”.

Now, begging the question as to whether they’re needed at all (they’re not), it looks as though such masts may be unnecessary in a few years anyway due to smartphones with satellite connectivity, some of which are already available. Satellite phones are of course also available now though these are heavy and expensive.

It would be very sad and highly ironic if wild areas were desecrated with developments that soon served no function. Parkswatch Scotland covered this in a good post by Robert Craig who points out that Personal Locator Beacons and satellite communicators have been available for over a decade anyway.

Garmin InReach Mini 2

The first of these devices were just for sending an SOS in an emergency. Then came ones that allowed you to send a simple OK message. I carried one of these for several years so my partner would know all was fine when I was away in the wilds. More recently models that could be used to send and receive messages became available. I now use one of these – the Garmin InReach Mini, which I reviewed here.  This tiny device can send and receive messages and can be connected to a smartphone so you can use the latter’s much larger screen.

So there’s already no need to have a line-of-sight connection with a landbound mast if you have one of these communicators. There is the question of cost of course and carrying yet another device. However given the speed of phone developments I expect that smartphones will offer the same features soon and communication masts really will become redundant.

Until then we need to object to every proposal for masts in wild land that we hear about.  

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