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ECOLOGY: BIRD & ANIMAL SURVEYS AVOIDANCE IS THE BEST ROUTE


ECOLOGICAL PITFALLS OF ROUTE SELECTION


Gaining planning permission for energy distribution infrastructure can be challenging, especially where cable routes cross natural environments with protected species and habitats. Advice from an ecological consultancy at the route selection stage is likely to save on costly ecological mitigation by avoidance of high biodiversity value habitats such as woodland and heathland.


While there are many factors to consider during route selection for wind energy distribution, reducing the risk of planning consent difficulties on ecological grounds should not be underestimated. European and national laws protecting wildlife and habitats, including protected sites, can be complex and require specialist knowledge of the subject area.


EARLY APPRAISAL IS RECOMMENDED A preliminary ecological appraisal can flag up ecological issues at an early stage. Paul Franklin, Principal Ecologist with leading independent specialist Thomson Ecology, has consulted on some of Britain’s longest cable routes.


“In our experience of some 300 miles of cable route, the initial ecological survey and desk study has proved critical in determining the route of least ecological impact. We have found that surveying a wider area than might initially be proposed, allows for some careful routing to avoid protected sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest or Special Protection Areas and habitats likely to support protected species such as rare reptiles.”


Mitigation for European protected species such as dormice, bats and great crested newts can be complex and may result in delays to the programme. Licences are required from Natural England and receptor areas for species translocation may need to be created in some cases. Avoidance of ecological issues should always be the first consideration.


ENGAGING THE REGULATORS The experienced ecologist can play a critical role at an early stage with regulatory bodies, as Paul Franklin explains: “We advise engaging with planners and regulatory bodies during the design process, this ensures that any local sensitivities and ecological issues are fully understood and informs route selection. Engaging with other stakeholders at this stage can be advantageous too. By allowing communities and interest groups


OFFSHORE WIND FARMS – QUANTIFYING THE IMPACT ON MARINE LIFE FROM MAN-MADE NOISE


Electricity generated at an offshore wind farm is often thought of as green and sustainable, but is it entirely without risk to the environment? Constructing a windfarm offshore can generate considerable levels of man- made noise.


The construction and installation process may involve hammering foundation piles into the subsea sediments; drilling foundation sockets into the basement rock as well as increased shipping for support activities such as geotechnical studies and cable-laying to name just two.


Add to the mix marine protected areas and European Protected Species (at least in UK and European waters) such as harbour porpoise, bottlenose dolphin and grey seal – all of which may be sensitive to disturbance; the potential exists for a significant acoustic impact.


GAINING CONSENT


In general, it is necessary for the wind farm developer to gain consent for the project from various regulatory bodies: in the UK this duty often falls to the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC In common with planning application procedures throughout Europe, consent is only granted provided that there is compliance with various local, national


32 www.windenergynetwork.co.uk


and European Commission directives on environmental regulations. These require the authorities to have all the necessary information available so that they are able to determine whether or not a development is likely to have a significant impact on the environment.


As a result, an Environmental Statement is commissioned by the developer and


this considers


environmental impacts from all phases of the development from construction and installation through to final decommissioning. Subsequently this is submitted for review by the regulatory bodies.


In the context of an offshore wind farm, two specific studies are identified: the measurement of baseline underwater noise levels in the project area before any development has taken place and an assessment of the potential acoustic


impact on marine life likely to arise during various stages of the project.


MEASURING AND ANALYSING UNDERWATER NOISE


The significance of a man-made noise can only be determined by noting its loudness relative to the prevailing background noise levels. To help with this, Kongsberg can call on a range of underwater sensors


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