Electric grid delivering conservation gains
Scotland aims to source 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. This will put new strains on the energy network and require a large-scale overhaul of the nation’s energy infrastructure. In parallel, the Scottish Government aims to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.
To facilitate a build-out of energy infrastructure that does not put sensitive species and habitats at risk, Ramboll partnered with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) to protect local wildlife in the Lairg-Loch Buidhe transmission reinforcement project. The project encompassed the construction of a substation north of Lairg and a new 132kV overhead line.
With multiple protected areas nearby – including moorland and peatland – it was essential to ensure the project did not harm local sensitive species.
Assessing wildlife impacts
Ramboll’s ornithologists identified five sites with a statutory designation for ornithological interest in the vicinity of the development, with the protected black-throated diver (Gavia arctica) a key species of interest.
The black-throated diver is on the UK Amber List and protected as a rare species.
Through baseline assessments, Ramboll experts identified how the project might impact the local bird population through potential habitat loss, nest destruction and the disturbance of individuals.
Ramboll developed a bespoke survey methodology to assess potential collision risk from the proposed infrastructure on black-throated divers. By working collaboratively with Scotland’s Nature Agency, NatureScot, and a diver specialist, we developed a novel collision-risk model that could assess the risks.
Following this assessment, Ramboll created mitigation and habitat enhancement measures that allowed the development to proceed without a negative impact on the protected bird species.
For instance, line markers were installed along four kilometres of the overhead line to reduce the likelihood of bird collisions. Ramboll also incorporated rafts into the development, which greatly improve the success of breeding black-throated divers, and provide the habitat to potentially add another breeding pair of divers to the local population.
The power of partnership
The collaboration between Ramboll specialists, NatureScot and diver specialists transformed this project to not only identify and mitigate negative impacts on a protected bird species, but to also produce a conservation net gain through the introduction of additional breeding areas for divers. A recent report published by the United States Geological Survey found that around half of surveyed bird species in a California study were vulnerable to population-level effects from fatalities at renewable energy facilities. While other research has previously concluded that coal-fired power plants kill far more birds than wind and solar, the results underscore the need for integrating biodiversity considerations into the green energy build-out.
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