Select Committee on Environmental Audit Memoranda


Annex 1

IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES UPON THE NATURAL HERITAGE

  "Renewable" sources of energy such as wind, wave and water power avoid the chemical and physical environmental effects associated with conventional and nuclear sources, but they have their own impacts on landscapes or habitats.

Landscape and visual impacts

  Scotland is renowned for the diversity of its landscapes and the quality of its scenery—qualities which all developments, including all forms of renewable energy, have the potential to change. Some of the areas of highest repute for their natural heritage are also valued for their qualities of wildness, or for the absence of obvious human impact. As well as contributing to the quality of life for those who live in Scotland, our landscapes are a major economic asset as a basis for the tourism industry which is Scotland's largest employment sector. Concern for the future of this industry presents an economic argument for avoiding adverse impacts on those aspects of the Scottish landscape which attract tourism.

  Because of their large size, modern, human, industrial character, and suitability for upland locations which are often not already developed, windfarms offer a particular challenge to Scotland's landscapes. The effect on people's experience of the countryside caused by this kind of development, and by the track systems to service them, can be considerable. Opportunities for hydro schemes, too, may be found in areas where landscapes are relatively unmodified by humankind. Good practice is emerging on how windfarm siting, design and layout can encourage a positive image in the landscape. Nonetheless, while most types of landscape can accommodate change to some degree, a development of too large a scale, or insensitively designed, can change the character of any area. Small-scale developments serving individual farms or houses can usually be accommodated in most landscapes with sensitive siting. Developments of any scale may not easily be accommodated within undeveloped landscapes valued for their wildness or other intrinsic qualities.

  Government proposals to date have concentrated on how to enable the energy supply industry to attain new targets for renewable energy. It has pointed to the fact that onshore wind is one of the technologies which can now offer competitive energy costs. A primarily market-led approach could result in large-scale wind energy development in many of the upland areas of Scotland. If such development were not carefully guided, it could become one of the most pervasive built intrusions into Scottish landscapes in recent times, bringing about a marked change in the character of the Scottish countryside. Such changes could be expected to attract adverse public comment and to fuel public opposition to the further expansion of renewable energy generation. Furthermore, there are strong economic arguments for avoiding developments which mar the scenic beauty which is the foundation for so much of Scotland's tourism industry. There is an abundant renewables resource, and effective and positive guidance is not likely to hinder achievement of Government's renewable energy targets.

  Offshore renewables developments, and especially those at a distance from the shore, are less likely to have significant visual impacts.

Ecological impacts

  Windfarm developments carry a risk of bird collision impacts with moving rotors and fixed structures, including any additional overhead wiring. The risk is most significant where windfarms straddle regular flight lines, for example the daily flight lines for geese flying between roosting and feeding grounds, or where birds such as raptors make use of the windfarm habitat for hunting. Species most likely to be subject to significant risks are raptors, geese, divers, gamebirds, and some seabirds and seaduck. Rare species, and those protected under national and international legislation, require careful risk assessment on a site-specific, and species-specific basis. Where windfarm proposals overlay the core feeding range of golden eagles the habituation to particular nest sites, the frequency of hunting flights, and the long natural lifespan of individual birds may make the collision risk significant. Potentially, this is a concern which may constrain development at a significant number of upland sites in Highland Scotland.

  Turbine and track construction can have direct impacts on sensitive natural habitats, especially peatland; careful design, siting and drainage of tracks is required in these areas.

  Even quite small hydro schemes can present difficulties for migratory fish and protected aquatic species, or by changing river flow rates affect the surrounding vegetation and flower plant communities.

  Tidal barrage schemes would reduce the extent of the intertidal zone, which is important for feeding birds. Most of the major Scottish estuaries hold internationally important numbers of waterfowl, and contain land or intertidal areas designated as SPAs or SACs under the EC Birds or Habitats and Species Directives. These estuaries gather wintering waterfowl and seabirds from a large part of the northern hemisphere, with some species migrating long distances through many countries. Estuarine management in Scotland therefore forms part of an international conservation responsibility for these migratory bird species.


 
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