‘This is the irony of green energy’ – Farmers’ fears over environmental impact of cables from Hornsea Project Three wind farm
Landowners in the path of a planned cable route for an offshore wind farm fear the green energy project could damage decades of environmental work in the north Norfolk countryside.
Hempstead Hall, near Holt, is a 300-acre arable farm which lies within the corridor being assessed for the groundworks for the proposed Hornsea Project Three wind farm.
Danish company DONG Energy, which launched a consultation process over its plans in October, is considering whether it can bring the cables from North Sea turbines ashore in north Norfolk, and link them to a substation south of Norwich.
The company says no decisions have yet been made, and landowners will be consulted and ecological surveys carried out to assess the impact on the environment, wildlife and landscapes as the preferred cable route is refined.
But William Mack and his son Charlie, whose family have farmed at Hempstead since 1933, said the project – despite its environmental goal of generating clean, renewable offshore energy – could cause irreparable damage to wildlife habitats on the land.
The farm has been in a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme for almost three years, but its environmental credentials date back much further, including a Norfolk Farmland Conservation Award win in 1988 proudly remembered with a plaque on the farm gate.
It incorporates areas of wild bird seed mixes, floristically-enhanced six-metre margins and grassland, while thousnads of pounds have been spent on a drainage system.
William Mack said: “My father Henry came here with his father in 1933 and it has taken until now to get the farm how we want it. Now they are going to do this.
“We have only been in the HLS scheme for two-and-a-half years and we have gone to all the trouble of buying all this wildflower and grass seed. We have been praised by the Natural England adviser as to how well everything was looking and what a good job we have done, and she wanted us to have a farm walk to show other farmers how it should be done.
“So to have to rip it all up again for this cable to go through seems such a shame when everything is looking so well.
Charlie Mack said he was concerned about the impact on soil structure and erosion, as well as the wildlife habitats.
“There is this irony that it is supposed to be green energy, but it is going to cause all this environmental upheaval,” he said. “There has been a huge increase in bird numbers on the farm since the HLS was incorporated. It has been really successful with skylarks, red kites and lapwings.
“It counters the whole green argument when you are paid to put all these things in and then someone comes along to dig it up and smash through it. It will never go back to how it was before. There are nesting birds in the hedges which will disappear, and there are some rare bats here too.”
ENERGY FIRM’S RESPONSE
DONG Energy has written to landowners along the possible cable route to explain that the original scoping area under consideration has been refined down to a 200m-wide corridor, following public feedback and initial ecological surveys. Next year, the aim is to refine the corridor to a width of 80m.
Stuart Livesey, Hornsea Project Three director, said: “Hornsea Project Three will be able to produce enough energy for over two million homes. It will have a significant impact on lowering UK carbon emissions, as well as boosting UK industry. Whilst it won’t be visible from shore, as with any big infrastructure project, the onshore works may cause temporary disturbance and that’s why we are consulting in Norfolk, to ensure we minimise potential impacts as much as possible.
“We are currently consulting on the cable route area, so it is under constant review. We will be factoring in feedback from land owners, environmental surveys and technical constraints. We’re aware of Mr Mack’s concerns and have arranged a time to speak with him directly. In addition to consulting with landowners, we will also be consulting with landowner groups such as the NFU (National Farmers’ Union), CLA (Country Land and Business Association), and Norfolk Association of Agricultural Valuers (NAAV).
“We have held numerous events in the Norfolk area to meet people, let them know more about the project and understand how it might affect them, and this insight genuinely affects how the project is developed. I would like to reassure people that our focus is on ensuring the community has a chance to give feedback at this early stage, so that any potential issues can be addressed before plans are finalised. We encourage people to get in touch and welcome their comments on the proposed windfarm.”
LAND AGENT’S VIEW
Jonathan Rush, a land agent at the Norwich office of Brown and Co, said: “This is the irony of green energy. The energy and carbon expended on creating this thing and putting in these cables is enormous. The topsoil will be dug up and eroded, and the subsoil exposed.
“There is this unwieldy process where these big private companies come through with compulsory purchase powers. There is also the emotional cost of seeing someone you have not invited on your land, saying they are going to dig it up.
“These are civil engineers who are told: ‘Strip this corridor, get this cable in, and here is your work window’. Whether they are moving sopping wet mud or lovely dry earth does not matter to them. They have just got to move it. But to a farmer that is their soil structure damaged.
“They are very professional and skilled, but they have got a job to do in a set time, determined by engineers, and it does not necessarily fit with the sensitivities of the farm, the landscape and, most importantly, the soil.
“You have got to be careful about getting into the rights and wrongs of offshore wind. It may be for the benefit of the country, but there is a personal cost and an environmental cost, and the Norfolk countryside is going to bear that cost.
“The law provides for landowners to be compensated for all losses. Money can compensate you for lost crops and loss of income from HLS, and they can give you money towards planting and maintaining a hedge, but no amount of money can put back a 200-year-old hedge, or give you the soil structure back.”
Mr Rush encouraged other landowners in a similar position to the Mack family to explain their concerns to the energy company.
“I think farmers can help themselves by helping the energy companies understand what they are asking of the farmers and what they are cutting across on this land,” he said.
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