Support for Dorset wind farms higher than you might think, study reveals

SUPPORT for wind farms in Dorset is higher than you might think, according to a new study.

Experts at Oxford Brookes University asked residents in two parts of Dorset for their thoughts on the developments as part of new research which sought to establish the popularity – or otherwise – of wind farms in rural areas.

In Dorset, the study focussed on areas around Slyer’s Lane, near Dorchester, and Holwell.

Responses in those two pools indicated brad support for wind farms.

In the Slyer’s Lane area, 86% of respondents said they supported the developments, with 9% opposed.

Meanwhile in Holwell, 79% of people supported the schemes, with 17% opposed.

Across the south of England – with surveys carried out in Gloucestershire, Oxon, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Dorset – the data showed between 71% and 80% of people supported the development of wind farms, while 11% to 24% opposed.

The research was led by Dr Ben Kenward, a senior lecturer in psychology at Oxford Brookes as part of a survey project called SOOLE (Surveying Opinion On Local Energy).

Questionnaires were filled in by 1,148 participants, followed up with doorstep interviews in five areas, which increased the response rate to 69%.

Support was still at 72% in the doorstep interviews.

For increased validity, the study asked participants to comment on fictional, but realistic and detailed wind turbine plans for their area.

Sometimes these were previously proposed real plans that had not gone ahead, such as in Slyer’s Lane, near Dorchester.

In 2016, a plan to build six wind 115-metre turbines on agricultural land was rejected by then-West Dorset District Council.

Analysis of some of the data. Picture: Oxford Brookes University

Analysis of some of the data. Picture: Oxford Brookes University

But Dr Kenward said his research showed perceived community opposition to such schemes could be misplaced.

“While our interview sample size is small, we have nevertheless shown that the majority of people in these communities who participated in the survey are in favour of wind farms,” he said.

“Another important finding of this research relates to how those people perceive the views of others.

“This survey shows people tend to have a distorted view of others’ opinions. On average, people over-estimated opposition in their area five-fold.

“If this helps people to understand that others are also positive about renewable energy like wind turbines in their local area, it could spur further motivation for change.”

The data comes after a Government consultation over the development of on-shore wind farms in the UK, with Dr Kenward’s research being submitted.

Dr Lee de Wit, assistant professor of psychology at the University Of Cambridge who specialises in political psychology, said: “This work reinforces a large body of literature which demonstrates we often misperceive support for different policies.

“This is particularly crucial for climate change, where rapid changes are needed, but Government needs to be confident those changes are supported by the public to take action.

“It is very easy for the voice of a vocal minority to be perceived to be more representative than it is.

“This work highlights how important it is to actually ask people their opinions, and to ask them in very concrete terms in relation to their own lives and lived environment.

“It also reinforces how we need to ask people in different ways, both through surveys, but also through door-to-door questions.”

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