Offshore wind farms have a key role to play if the UK is to achieve its climate ambitions, but the cumulative effects of offshore wind on the marine environment alongside other human activities are still not well understood. The new Ecological Consequences of Offshore Wind (ECOWind) research program will help answer these unknowns and provide policy-ready solutions to enable offshore wind and thriving marine ecosystems to coexist and promote environmental restoration.
The UK government recently announced ambitious plans to deploy 50GW of offshore wind power by 2030, helping the country move away from fossil fuels and work towards zero net carbon emissions from by 2050. However, the construction and operation of wind farms could have a series of cumulative negative effects on marine life: for example, seabirds could collide with rotating turbine blades, whales and dolphins might be disturbed by construction noise, or the seabed might be disturbed by the laying of cables. There are also potential opportunities for environmental improvement through marine ‘net gain’, an approach to development that aims to leave the environment in a better condition than before.
The UK has made a number of commitments to conserve marine biodiversity of all types. Marine biodiversity faces pressures from a range of human activities and climate change, and understanding how large-scale offshore wind development contributes to these pressures is necessary for conservation. ECOWind aims to understand how the large-scale deployment of offshore wind can meet climate targets while ensuring the UK maintains a healthy marine environment.
Chairman of the ECOWind Scientific Advisory Group, Professor Colin Moffat, said: “The expansion of offshore wind is essential, but we need to ensure it is done with the marine environment in mind. ECOWind aims to fill some of the biggest gaps in our knowledge to help inform this process too. effectively as possible – ensuring that the research undertaken is genuinely useful and usable for policy, regulation and management.”
Following a successful ‘Call for Applications’, inviting UK research institutes to submit proposals to study the cumulative impacts of offshore wind on marine biodiversity, ECOWind is currently evaluating a shortlist. Ultimately, three projects will be selected and awarded total funding of £7 million by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and The Crown Estate.
“ECOWind takes a new impact-driven approach, based on promoting the creation of sound science with direct applications for marine policy and management”, said Professor Dickon Howell, ECOWind Champion. “What does this mean? It means this is not science to be kept on the shelf, but work that will directly inform how we develop our renewable energy landscape as a nation, and we’ll make sure we do it without damaging the incredible abundance of Britain’s seas.” The ECOWind Champion team is made up of industry experts who will work closely with the research teams to ensure they produce relevant advice throughout the program.
ECOWind research results will be published periodically on the ECOWind website and will be developed in collaboration with marine policy makers and managers to ensure that the results are used to inform governance and management. The projects will work closely together to ensure that their results are aligned and ultimately contribute to an ecosystem-level assessment of the cumulative impacts of offshore wind on the marine environment.
ECOWind is part of the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Program (OWEC), run by The Crown Estate in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, which collects and leverages data and evidence to advance the sustainable and coordinated expansion of offshore wind while supporting clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas.
“We are thrilled to see ECOWind taking shape into a truly pioneering program of work,” said Mandy King, program manager for OWEC. “By bringing together industry, government and some of the brightest minds in the academic community, we will connect science and policy every step of the way to ensure that the research generated is as effective as possible.”
Source and top image: ECOWind