Trinity College Dublin: A biodiversity action plan to maximise the benefits of wind farms

The Nature+Energy project will develop new ways of accounting for the value of nature on wind farms and establish a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system across the country that will revolutionise how we measure and monitor biodiversity.

The project, led by MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine teams in Trinity and Maynooth University, aims to maximise the benefits of biodiversity on wind farms.

Management tools needed to enhance biodiversity and mitigate the effects of wind farms on key species Nature+Energy will develop Natural Capital Accounts and a Biodiversity Action Plan for the wind sector to facilitate the development of biodiversity enhancement measures and help to mitigate the effects of wind farms on key species.

This new MaREI project, co-funded by Wind Energy Ireland and 8 Irish renewable energy companies, recognises the need to enhance nature’s contributions to people through improving understanding of how habitat diversity and connectivity can be enhanced by wind farm land management for conservation.

Dr Ian Donohue, coordinator of the project, Principal Investigator at Nature+, Trinity’s Centre for Biodiversity & Sustainable Nature Based Solutions, and Associate Professor in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, said:

“The project is founded on the idea that wind farms have the potential to provide so much more than just renewable energy. If managed properly, the biodiversity on onshore wind farms 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—the ‘jobs’, such as crop pollination and water filtration, that nature does for us for free. Wind farms could in effect function almost like mininature reserves throughout the country.

“Climate change and the erosion of biodiversity—the extinction of plant and animal species— are the twin environmental crises facing all of humanity. By focusing on solutions for overcoming these problems, this project gives us the opportunity to showcase how researchers and industry can work together to develop genuine win-win scenarios for the economy and the environment.”

In 2020, wind energy supplied 36% of the total electricity demand, and overall renewable electricity supply is set to rise to 70% by 2030 as new wind and solar farms are built. This will help Ireland to reduce its reliance on environmentally harmful fossil fuels and meet its climate change targets.

Brian Ó Gallachóir, MaREI Director and Professor of Energy Engineering in University College Cork said

“I’m delighted with and very enthused by this new and important MaREI project. Ireland is world-leading in addressing the challenges of integrating wind energy into power systems and we have a tremendous wind resource. Government policy is to more than double current wind power levels by 2030. Nature+Energy will provide the evidence to ensure this growth takes place in a manner that maximises biodiversity.”

Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) is a tool to integrate nature into decision-making and is a means to reduce and reverse global trends in environmental degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss. Nature+Energy will develop natural capital accounts for the wind sector, which will form the basis for a decision-support tool for land-use planning for onshore wind energy.

Jane Stout, Principal Investigator at Nature+ and Professor in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, describes natural capital as an economic metaphor for nature. She said:

“It’s a concept that frames natural systems as stocks of assets that provide a flow of benefits to people. Building on previous projects led by Trinity, this project will develop ways to assess natural capital on wind farm sites.”

The Nature+Energy project also includes collaborators Prof Yvonne Buckley (Nature+ Centre, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin) and Prof Andrew Parnell (Hamilton Institute, Maynooth University). Dr Aoibheann Gaughran (School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin) has been recruited as Project Manager.

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