ScottishPower Renewables have a dedicated team of in house ecologists supporting our portfolio of onshore wind, solar and battery in the UK and Ireland from early conception to operations.
Our staff are highly experienced with specialisms in areas such as ornithology, bats, peatlands, Environmental Impact Assessment, habitat management and invertebrates. Our onshore ecology team are responsible for ensuring our ecological commitments are delivered on time and to a high standard. The team also undertake industry leading research projects and develop innovative and cost-effective methods to ensure we continue to develop and operate projects in an ecologically sensitive manner.
Why do we restore Peatland?
Peatlands are a hugely important habitat because they host a diverse range of plant and animal life, and they store significant amounts of carbon. This habitat is characteristically wet. The naturally high water table found in peatlands facilitates their valued biodiversity and carbon storage ability. However, most of Scotland’s peatlands have been damaged due to drainage and land use change.
Many peatland areas in Scotland have been historically planted with commercial forestry. The ridge and furrow patterns created when ploughing and preparing an area for commercial forestry drains the peat, this in turn lowers the water table and exposes the peat. When peat is exposed from the water table, it dries out and subsequently releases carbon to the atmosphere. Therefore, the restoration of peatland habitats is an important nature-based solution in our fight against climate change. Peatland restoration also provides other benefits such as habitat for a range of important plant and animal species, many of which are only found in peatlands, improving downstream water quality and alleviating flood risk.
Due to the importance of peatland habitats, we are committed to restoring over 4,000 hectares of peatland over 15 years. We have invested £2.8 million in peatland restoration works so far, in addition to a further £1.2 million on 17+ years of research into restoration techniques and good practice in partnership with consultants Strath Caulaidh Ltd.
Peatland Restoration Research
At the time of our first cohort of peatland restoration in 2010, there was no standardised method to effectively restore peatlands previously damaged by forestry practices. Restoration trials were undertaken at Whitelee and Black Law windfarms where low-pressure excavators were used to smooth the peat using various techniques.
After three years of monitoring the new techniques, our team of ecologists established and developed the ‘ground smoothing’ method. This restoration method involves flipping the tree stump from the ridge, and burying it in the adjacent furrow. The excavator then tracks over the area to ensure a smooth surface which prevents further drainage.
Previous existing methods of restoring open peatlands (those that have historically been drained but have not been planted with trees) were slow, expensive and messy. Our ecology team worked to develop a more efficient and effective method of restoring these peatlands using the ‘wave damming’ method. Using this technique, the excavator blocks drainage ditches using its bucket to push peat down and thrust it upwards to, create a sealed dam.
SPR’s commitment to developing effective and efficient peatland restoration techniques resulted in our work being recognised by various organisations. We received the ‘Sustainable Development’ award at the RSPB Nature of Scotland awards, in addition to an ‘In Practice’ award from the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management in 2017. We were also included as lead authors of a new technical report for the IUCN’s Commission of Inquiry into peatlands, published in 2019, which highlighted our restoration techniques as success stories. The ground smoothing and wave damming methods developed by ScottishPower Renewables have also been recognised by NatureScot’s Peatland ACTION project where they are noted within the Peatland Action Technical Compendium.
Our aim to restore peatlands should not significantly impact species or surrounding habitats. However, performing large scale peatland restoration works can cause impacts on downstream water quality. We undertake catchment scale modelling and subsequently restrict the areas of peatland restoration completed within a year in each catchment to minimise the risk of negative impacts on water quality. This phased approach is an important principle of ecological continuity and reduces the risk of local extinctions and maximises benefits for biodiversity when delivering landscape-scale works. Restoration works are also restricted to the winter months as to avoid disturbing breeding birds.
Our team of ecologists undertake long-term monitoring of peatland restoration sites, with £250,000 spent to date on monitoring. This is to determine the success of peatland restoration works and to identify any long-term trends. Although peatlands take decades to fully restore, our monitoring programme has demonstrated promising results indicating that the methods we utilise are effective in restoring previously damaged and degraded peatlands.