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Environmental monitoring at prospective renewable sites is vital for the future

By Scottish Renewables

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By Claire Mack, chief executive of Scottish Renewables

Great crested newt occur around Inverness.
Great crested newt occur around Inverness.

Coronavirus has brought most of the country to a halt. People and cars are less prevalent, and nature is taking back the centre stage.

Deer and rabbits seem to be less shy, and our newfound necessity for a daily walk has seen us appreciate how many species of bumblebee and butterfly there can be in Scotland at this time of year.

But what about the people who spot these things for a living?

Scottish Renewables has around a dozen members involved in ecological monitoring to support the development and deployment of renewables in a sensitive and environmentally-responsible way.

We spoke to two of those – MacArthur Green and Neo Environmental – about why these particular months are so crucial in the renewables calendar.

Daniel Flenley, Neo’s senior ecologist, highlighted that spring and early summer are when many Scottish species breed and are often most easy to detect.

He said: “For example, great crested newts occur in patches in the south of the country and around Inverness. They gather to mate in ponds, and hopefully I will be seeing their striking ‘waggle dance’ some time over the next couple of weeks.”

MacArthur Green director David MacArthur discussed monitoring the bird species, such as black grouse, golden eagles and peregrine falcons, which are most active at this time.

“Gaining a clear understanding of their territory and how they use the wind farm site is key to determining if a project can progress and how the design should be developed to avoid significant effects,” he said.

All this work needs to be thorough and consistent to develop a credible information source on which key decisions can be made – and starts years before any shovels hit the ground.

Environmental monitoring is crucial not just because it is a consenting requirement that enables deployment, but because it is central to our values set as an industry committed to responsible and sustainable development.

There is also a very marked butterfly effect connected to environmental surveying.

For example, poor grid connections on our remote islands means that power generated there cannot be transported to the mainland efficiently.

Claire Mack of Scottish Renewables.
Claire Mack of Scottish Renewables.

Scottish Renewables has worked, alongside its members, for many years to secure better grid connections, but these are predicated on a certain capacity of renewable energy projects being deployed which cannot be built if those projects are not ready to go by a specific date.

Failure to complete environmental surveying during the crucial spring months is likely to mean renewables projects are delayed and the interconnectors will not be able to be built when we need them.

The data collected as part of these environmental surveys does not just help reduce carbon emissions by building out renewable energy projects but helps us understand more every year about Scotland’s unique biodiversity – all valuable when we need to understand more about how climate change is impacting here at home, as well as across the world.

In the current situation, essential environmental monitoring tasks must be completed because nature’s window to do so will snap shut at the end of spring, causing a butterfly effect well into the future that will see an opportunity to reduce our carbon emissions further go with it.

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