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Conservation groups and renewable developers agree good practice principles

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The renewable energy industry has teamed up with conservation bodies in Scotland to agree new good practice principles in an effort to maximise the protection and restoration of peatlands, while encouraging the development of clean, green energy from wind farms.

Together with RSPB Scotland, WWF Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the industry body Scottish Renewables has drawn up the good practice principles to inform the design, location and management of wind farms to help them be successfully accommodated within appropriate peatland areas with minimal adverse environmental damage.

Scottish peatlands provide a range of environmental, economic and social services including biodiversity, water management and carbon storage. In some situations good practice can deliver long-term peatland benefits, including restoration of previously damaged habitat. Wind farm developments are important in reducing carbon emissions, delivering a secure and diverse energy supply and contributing to economic and social development of rural areas.

The new principles will provide a framework for developers that will diminish the potential negative effects on peatlands and are hoped to allow the real benefits of wind energy generation to be fully be realised.

The principles are:

• Peatlands are recognised as environmentally valuable, and important stores of carbon. Areas of deep peat and those predominantly consisting of active bog habitat or with statutory environmental designations are recognised as higher constraints. When siting wind farms, every reasonable effort should be made to avoid significant adverse environmental effects in these areas.

• Where development is proposed for peatland, good practice should be followed and steps taken to deliver positive greenhouse gas and other environmental benefits, consistent with the natural ecosystem functions of the habitat. This should be achieved through agreements to ensure properly planned and managed habitat restoration with steps taken to ensure maximum effectiveness, developed through full and open stakeholder engagement.

• The renewables industry will assist in improving the knowledge base on the impacts on peatland and the effectiveness of peatland rehabilitation through putting in place scientific monitoring and sharing of data with other stakeholders, where appropriate.

• The renewables industry will engage with stakeholders to provide support for applied research into key areas of peatland science relevant to understanding the impacts of development on the various peatland qualities including biodiversity, carbon and hydrology.

Peatland is a general term that encompasses a range of habitats on peat soils that occupy over a third of Scotland's land area. The deepest peats occur under blanket and raised bogs; these are habitats of international importance for nature conservation and have been identified as priorities under the Scottish and UK Biodiversity Action Plans. Around 15% of the deep peat area has been designated under national or international wildlife conservation legislation. Much of the peat bog has been damaged by past activity such as fire, grazing, drainage and conifer planting. There are, however, huge areas of peatland with potential for habitat restoration to improve the conservation status.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "These principles establish the importance of minimising damage to our internationally important peatlands and the wildlife that inhabits them. They will help us to move forward, away from polarised debate, and instead allow us to work together to conserve and enhance our peatlands whilst also tackling climate change. 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 for peatlands, protecting these important places for birds and wildlife."

Niall Stuart (pictured), chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said: "Onshore wind farms will continue to expand in Scotland as part of a diverse, secure and low carbon way to meet our energy needs. The renewables industry has developed a great deal of expertise in constructing projects responsibly on peatland areas in recent years, and that experience is shared in these principles. 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 such as peatlands."

Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said: "Renewables are a key part of transforming Scotland into a zero-carbon economy, and onshore windfarms have a continuing important role in this change. We always need to make sure that new wind farms are in the right places, and these new principles will help us get good schemes in good locations, delivering maximum clean, green energy and helping Scotland towards 100% renewable energy."

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