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Eco pact with energy industry reshapes Scottish landscape

A pact between Scottish conservation groups and the energy industry is to pave the way for the nation’s peat bogs – some of the country’s most delicate ecosystems – to become the site of major wind farm projects.

Until the new agreement, many green groups opposed any building of wind farms on peat bogs as interference would release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

However, assurance has now been given by renewable energy companies that they will fund research into reducing any environmental impact from erecting wind farms on the bogs.

RSPB Scotland, WWF Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust have all worked with industry body Scottish Renewables to draw up guidelines for the building of turbines on peatlands.

They say the agreement will end the impassioned debate about windfarm siting and allow Scotland to move towards a future of renewable energy.

Several of the groups involved were previously opposed to putting wind farms on peat bogs due to their role as carbon sinks which trap the greenhouse gas underground. Some estimates suggest wind farms built on peatlands can emit more carbon than a coal-fired power station, as the bog can decompose for hundreds of metres around each turbine, releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: “Wind farms will be a key part of the battle by allowing us to significantly reduce our carbon emissions, but we must ensure that we do not destroy our most precious habitats when fighting this battle. These new principles will help us find sustainable ways to achieve that.”

The guidelines say “every reasonable effort” will be made to avoid building on peat bogs. If damage is unavoidable, steps should be taken to restore the habitat and ensure greenhouse gas emissions are kept to a minimum. Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said: “With a responsible approach to development the industry can square the global action needed to tackle climate change with the need to protect fragile habitats.”

Peatlands take up more than a third of Scotland’s landmass and are some of the most biodiverse habitats in the country. Around 15% of the peatland is protected under national or international wildlife conservation legislation, and an estimated three billion tonnes of carbon is trapped in Scottish soil.

Building turbines in these sensitive areas is seen as vital to reaching the Scottish Government’s target of supplying 50% of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said: “These new principles will help us get good schemes in good locations.”

But critics remain. Dave Morris, from Ramblers Scotland, was angry at being left out of the agreement.

He said: “This grouping has not included anyone from a landscape perspective so it will lack a lot of credibility. Our general view on wind farm development is that it is a disaster.”