Project could see windfarms in Ireland become ‘mini nature reserves’

5 Jul 2021

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MaREI researchers are looking to boost biodiversity by using windfarms as conservation sites.

Many researchers in Ireland are urgently addressing the climate emergency. While some are trying to remove barriers to efficient energy use, others are reimagining the farming industry to lessen our impact on the environment.

Another team is now looking at how we can use renewable energy sites as locations for biodiversity.

The Nature+Energy project, led by MaREI – the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for energy, climate and marine – teams in Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth University, aims to maximise the benefits of biodiversity on windfarms.

The project will develop new ways of accounting for biodiversity and establish an environmental monitoring system across the country with a view to revolutionising how we track flora and fauna.

Researchers will create action plans for the wind sector, with the aim of facilitating biodiversity enhancement measures and helping to mitigate the effects of windfarms on key species in Ireland.

The project is co-funded by Wind Energy Ireland and eight Irish renewable energy companies, and the team said that combining conservation efforts with renewable energy production is central to the project.

“Climate change and the erosion of biodiversity – the extinction of plant and animal species – are the twin environmental crises facing all of humanity,” explained Dr Ian Donohue, coordinator of the project and principal investigator at Nature+, Trinity’s centre for biodiversity and sustainable nature-based solutions.

“If managed properly, the biodiversity on onshore windfarms has the potential to not only take even more carbon out of the atmosphere, but also to improve resilience of ecosystems to climate change and enhance the provision of ecosystem services.”

These pivotal services include crop pollination and water filtration. “Windfarms could, in effect, function almost like mini nature reserves throughout the country,” Donohoe added.

In 2020, wind energy supplied 36pc of total electricity in Ireland, but overall renewable electricity supply is set to rise to 70pc by 2030 as new wind and solar farms are built.

While this will help Ireland reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and meet climate targets, wind turbines also require a lot of land and researchers are looking to see how this land can be used while keeping biodiversity in mind.

A key concept at the heart of the project is ‘natural capital accounting’, a tool to integrate nature into decision-making.

“It’s a concept that frames natural systems as stocks of assets that provide a flow of benefits to people,” explained Prof Jane Stout of Trinity College Dublin, another principal investigator at Nature+.

“Building on previous projects led by Trinity, this project will develop ways to assess natural capital on windfarm sites.”

Nature+Energy will also develop a new graduate training programme for industry-academia education and collaboration in the wind sector.

Sam Cox was a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news