Atmos ecologist, Connor Mckinnie discusses the importance of our globally important peatlands and how through effective engagement at an early stage of the design process they can not only be maintained but enhanced.

Onshore wind developments are a key element in helping to tackle the global energy crisis and reducing impact on wider climate change.  In the UK onshore wind farm developments are often in areas with high coverage of peatlands due to their location on exposed moorland environments. Such environments offer prime locations for efficient wind energy production. 

Peatlands are a vital carbon sink which lock away millions of tonnes of carbon over thousands of years. It is estimated that UK peatlands contain a staggering 3.2 billion tons of carbon.

They are considered an internationally important habitat and support a wide variety of wildlife including rare plants and insects as well as birds and amphibians. Wading birds such as golden plover and dunlin depend on the unique vegetation found on bogs, while the threatened large heath butterfly feeds and nests here.

Peatlands provide over a quarter of the UK’s drinking water, [ONS UK Natural Capital: Peatlands].  Healthy peatlands are carpeted in Sphagnum mosses and function as giant sponges, storing vast volumes of water. This slow release and filtration of water is critical in alleviating the risk of flooding in lowland areas and also helps to clean drinking water.  Unfortunately, historical human activities such as draining and burning have negatively impacted on about 80% of the UK's peatlands. Recent studies suggest that degrading peatlands in the UK currently contribute to around 4% of our overall greenhouse gas emissions. 

As peatlands start to dry out, they lose their water retention ability, leading to reduced water quality and increased flood risk downstream. Additionally, drying peatlands are more vulnerable to fires, which can increase CO2 emissions and harm wildlife. Such factors partly explain the increase in flooding and wildfires that we have experienced in recent years.

A common misconception is that onshore wind developments only further negatively impact on peatlands, through processes such as soil erosion and disturbance of habitats. However, with effective design and early engagement with an environmental specialist these developments can have many positive impacts.

Atmos consulting has successfully supported numerous developers in assessing the suitability of sites for development and informing the best possible design and layout options in order to avoid sensitive habitats and areas of deep peat.

Our survey work and GIS analysis can help identify areas of degraded peatland on sites that can be improved as part of the mitigation and habitat enhancement measures outlined within the application - compensating for controlled loss of peatland habitat or even making overall positive improvements to biodiversity.

Through the application of Peatland Management Plans it is possible to mitigate against potential losses by re-using excavated peat from development sites to restore areas of dry and degraded peatlands, often with an overall net positive benefit.

Degraded areas can be successfully restored using a number of methods including peat hag reprofiling and damming gullies. Reprofiling can prevent further erosion of peat hags and encourage new vegetation growth while damming gullies and ditches helps hold back water and create bog pools.

Using habitat restoration methods like these it is possible to reverse the fortunes of a damaged peatland and create a functioning, productive habitat which is more hydrologically robust and brings value to wildlife.

Through careful design and management of wind farms we can strike a sustainable balance which yields benefits for the climate, biodiversity and people.

To find out more about how Atmos Consulting can successfully support you in mitigating against the impact on peatlands, and smooth the passage to a successful consent contact a member of the team today.