Wind farm threatens Mont St Michel's UNESCO status

PARIS Wed Feb 2, 2011 1:56pm EST

Aerial view of France's Mont-Saint-Michel is seen in this undated photo. REUTERS/Stringer

Aerial view of France's Mont-Saint-Michel is seen in this undated photo.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Plans to build a wind farm near the picturesque island abbey of Mont Saint Michel could threaten the UNESCO World Heritage status of one of France's most famous monuments.

The U.N. culture and education agency has written to France asking it to explain the project, which would see three wind turbines erected 17 km (10.5 miles) from the tiny seaside mount.

Barely bigger than the gothic abbey perched on top of it, the island is cut off from land twice a day at high tide and attracts more than 3 million visitors a year.

UNESCO said it had received a response from the French government by the February 1 date it requested, and will now assess the impact on the site and decide what action to take.

"The World Heritage Committee can decide to delist it, but that's a last resort and no one really wants that," a UNESCO spokesperson told Reuters.

Mont Saint Michel and its 11th-century Benedictine abbey were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and have become a favored destination for pilgrims and tourists alike.

According to legend, the original 8th Century monastery on the site was built by a local bishop following a visit from the Archangel Michael who repeatedly asked him to erect a church there but had to burn a hole in his skull to convince him.

Critics of the wind farm project say the turbines will blight the view of the site and surrounding bay, and pave the way for even more windmills, turning the area into an eyesore.

"Mont Saint Michel is an emblematic site, a historic site, it's part of France's cultural heritage, it's a real shame," said Herve Texier, vice-president of France's Sustainable Development Federation, which is battling to stop the turbines.

UNESCO has only ever delisted two of its World Heritage sites previously -- the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman, which was struck off at the government's request so they could tap the oil reserves on the site, and Elbe Valley in Dresden, Germany, which was blighted by a road bridge.

(Reporting by Vicky Buffery; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Paul Casciato)

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