The extent of windfarm infrastructures on recognised European blanket bogs

Sci Rep. 2023 Mar 8;13(1):3919. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-30752-3.


Peatland environments are the Earth’s largest terrestrial carbon store and have the potential to act as carbon sinks. However, the development of windfarms on peatlands is affecting their morphology, hydrology, ground-level climate conditions, carbon functions and vegetation, and long-term consequences still need to be assessed. Blanket bogs are a rare type of ombrotrophic peatland that are typical of oceanic areas with high precipitation and low temperatures. Their distribution has been mapped across Europe, where they are mainly located on hill summits where wind energy potential is higher, making them attractive sites for windfarm developments. The promotion of renewable energy is currently a priority given the environmental and economic drive to increase low-carbon energy production. Establishing windfarms on peatland in pursuit of greener energy, therefore, risks compromising and undermining the green-energy transition. Despite this, the extent of windfarm infrastructures on blanket bogs have not yet been reported at the European scale. This research reports the extent of windfarm infrastructures on recognised blanket bogs, with a geographical focus on Europe, where blanket bogs have been mapped systematically. Under the EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), there are 36 European regions NUTS level 2 with recognised blanket bogs. Of these, 12 have windfarm developments, including 644 wind turbines, 253.4 km of vehicular access tracks and an affected area of 207.6 ha, mainly in Ireland and Scotland where the extent of blanket bogs is also higher. However, despite Spain having under 0.2% of Europe’s recognised blanket bogs area, this was the most affected country. In Scotland, a comparison of the recognised blanket bogs under the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) with blanket bogs recorded in national inventories indicates that the extent of windfarm developments was higher, with 1,063 wind turbines and 634.5 km of vehicular access tracks. Our results highlight the extent of windfarm developments on blanket bog habitat, both in areas where peatlands are broadly distributed across the landscape, and also in areas where this recognised habitat is particularly rare. There is a pressing need to assess the long-term impacts of windfarms on peatlands to ensure that efforts to meet energy targets result only in carbon sequestration, and do not jeopardise ecosystem services. Blanket bogs represent a particularly vulnerable habitat, the study of which should be prioritised updating national and international inventories to protect and restore this habitat.

PMID:36890152 | PMC:PMC9995470 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-023-30752-3


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