Ecological restoration plan leads to nomination for prestigious renewables award

Wildfires which devastated much of the Moray countryside in the north of Scotland last year have led to increased environmental benefits being proposed by Europe’s largest renewable energy producer.

Work on Statkraft’s proposed extension to the Berry Burn Wind Farm, near Forres, has been shortlisted for the Outstanding Project Award, at the Scottish Renewables ‘Green Energy Awards’. In April 2019, a catastrophic wildfire spread throughout the site causing damage to precious habitats and threatening the project all together. The fire burnt for over a week and it took some time to ensure that peat fires were extinguished, and safe access could be allowed.

Unfortunately, the habitats and vegetation across a large area - including the entire proposed extension area – were utterly devastated.

Experts from ecological consultancy Avian Ecology worked tirelessly to ensure the project could continue by working with NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage) and the local community to find ways to restore and then enhance the biodiversity of the site.

Avian Ecology mapped out an engagement approach, with a high emphasis on early and on-going consultation with NatureScot to deliver an innovative habitat management plan that would bring a biodiversity net gain to the fire-damaged area, helping to turn around the catastrophe. In addition, they proposed measures to prevent the spreading of future wildfires, reducing the chance of such extensive damage reoccurring. The plan was carefully designed so as to provide improved peatland habitats for wildlife and carbon storage, providing clear benefits over and above those already in place for the operational Berry Burn Wind Farm.

That work has now been recognised for its quality with the shortlisting for the prestigious Green Energy Awards.

Mícheál Ó Broin, Senior Development Manager at Statkraft said: “Avian Ecology has exceeded our expectations. Their innovative ideas to minimise impacts to the natural environment is paramount in this industry as we work towards our ambitious net-zero target. We are delighted that this project partnership is getting the recognition it deserves.”

Howard Fearn, Director at Avian Ecology Limited said: “The devastating wildfire of April 2019 significantly impeded our normal process to survey and assess ecological impacts of the proposed extension. An entirely new approach was required, and we recognised this as an opportunity to increase the environmental benefits the project could deliver. It required innovative thinking and a close-working relationship with NatureScot. The wind farm extension would enable a significant biodiversity gain through improving peat habitats, accelerating recovery from fire damage and reducing damage from future wildfires.”

Due to Covid-19, this year’s Awards event will be held online on Thursday 26 November.

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