Offshore Wind Expansion Could Act as Catalyst for Marine Restoration – Study
The UK could move forward with its ambitious plans for offshore wind while strengthening approaches to protect nature, according to a new report published by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
Through a new “Nature Positive” approach the expansion of offshore wind over the next decade can be delivered without jeopardising the UK’s efforts to restore seabird populations, according to the report, titled Powering Healthy Seas.
The report outlines that as the UK moves to scale up wind farm expansion from 15 GW currently to reach the Government’s British Energy Security Strategy (BESS) target of 50 GW by 2030, project developers and policymakers will need to consider the substantial footprint that will have around UK coasts.
The wildlife on the UK’s coast and seas are under threat and the globally important marine life is in decline which is particularly prevalent in Scotland, according to the report.
“We have a clear vision of what we want to achieve; thriving seabird colonies and sustainable energy. However, the current system is not working”, said Katie-jo Luxton at the RSPB.
“Energy companies are being locked into development sites that are problematic for wildlife and the Secretary of State is regularly being asked to make impossible decisions that may achieve our energy targets but only at the expense of our seabirds and marine habitats.”
Luxton said that with the right planning and a cross-sector approach, the UK can achieve ocean recovery and secure renewable energy, but only if the country takes a transformative “Nature Positive” action.
The report looks at the need for a robust evidence base to inform environmentally conscious sitting of new offshore wind farms as well as for impact assessments that identify cumulative impacts of multiple developments.
It also calls for country-level marine plans to be introduced to provide clarity for marine users and includes introducing adaptive management techniques that would provide project flexibility if new research were to surface.
The report also recommends a marine net gain system that could help drive nature recovery and improvement.
“Not only are new offshore wind farms lowering our energy bills, but they also remain critical to tackling climate change, which poses the greatest threat to bird populations and our natural environment. It’s vitally important that we build well-sited clean energy projects to reach net zero as fast as possible”, said Juliette Webb, RenewableUK’s Environmental Policy Analyst.
“We’re working with the RSPB to ensure that we develop offshore wind farms in an environmentally sensitive way which protects birds and support marine ecosystems.”
The “Nature Positive” approach should address safe places for seabirds to feed with MPA management and bycatch mitigation, safe places to nest through a UK-wide island biosecurity programme, and more food availability through the closure of industry sandeel fisheries in UK waters and improved fisheries management, according to the report.
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