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Researchers warn of ‘urgent’ need to understand impact of windfarms on precious peatlands

There is an urgent need to assess the potential impact of windfarms being installed on precious and vulnerable peatlands, according to a new study.

The study revealed more than 640 wind turbines on blanket bogs across the European Union and the UK

Environmental scientists at Nottingham Trent University have for the first time mapped the extent of known windfarm infrastructures, such as wind turbines and vehicle tracks, on recognised blanket bogs in Europe.

Blanket bogs – a rare type of peatland commonly found in areas with lots of rain and low temperatures – are typically found on hill summits where wind energy potential is higher, making them attractive sites for windfarm developments.

They have a range of beneficial ecosystem services, improving water quality and water storage and biodiversity. However, a large proportion of blanket bogs, are already in an unfavourable condition according to the EU Habitats Directive reports.

The study revealed more than 640 wind turbines on blanket bogs across the European Union and the UK, as well as more than 250km of vehicle access tracks.

Peatland environments are the Earth’s largest terrestrial carbon store and act as a natural carbon sink when in pristine condition or restored, helping to mitigate climate change. While their habitat covers less than 3% of the planet’s land surface, peatlands represent more than a quarter of all terrestrial carbon.

Blanket bogs have been compromised by anthropogenic pressures such as peat extraction for fuel and horticulture, forestry, overgrazing, drainage, burning for recreational activities, and human infrastructures for centuries.

Windfarm developments are a modern threat to these ecosystems, with their installation on blanket bogs posing particular threats to peatland hydrology, ground level climatic conditions, habitat biodiversity, and carbon storage.

The Nottingham Trent University researchers argue that, while the promotion of renewable energy is a priority, establishing windfarms on peatland in pursuit of greener energy might actually be undermining the green energy transition.

The study assessed the extent of windfarm developments on blanket bogs recognised under the EU’s Habitats Directive. This directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species.

This Directive requires each member state to report the conservation status of this habitat every six years and, when necessary, encourage and implement restoration actions to improve quality and conservation status.

Lead researcher Dr Guaduneth Chico explains more about the study

“Our research reports for the first time the current known extent of windfarm developments on blanket bogs across the EU and UK,” said lead researcher Dr Guaduneth Chico, a scientist in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences.

He said: “The potential long-term damage to this habitat is still unclear, but evidence supports negative impacts of windfarm developments on this critical habitat. Blanket bogs represent a particularly vulnerable habitat, the study of which should be prioritised with the aim of protecting and restoring by reviewing the national inventories of this habitat across Europe.

“Several unrecognised blanket bogs have also been identified across the EU recently, highlighting the lack of understanding and consequently adequate protection of this important habitat. This study was not able to consider these, and so it is possible the problems we identify are worse than we have been able to consider here”

“There is an urgent need to assess the impacts of windfarms on peatlands of all types to ensure that efforts to meet energy targets do not jeopardise the environment.”

In Europe, the most important and extensive blanket bogs are found in the British Isles with some occurrence in Norway, France, Austria, Sweden, Spain and Portugal (Azores Islands).

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also involved IBADER from Campus Terra of University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain and Loughborough University.

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    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded The Times and The Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2023 and ranked second best university in the UK in the Uni Compare Top 100 rankings (2021/2022). It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with approximately 40,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.

    Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data). It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.

    NTU is ranked 2nd most sustainable university in the world in the 2022 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Published on 22 March 2023
  • Subject area: Geography, horticulture and environment
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences