Wind farms built on carbon rich peat bogs lose their ability to fight climate change
5th August 2020 | Commercial Energy
Wind power in the UK now accounts for nearly 30% of all electricity production. Land-based wind turbines now produce the cheapest type of energy – and there is no doubt wind farms can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by replacing the fossil fuels that have traditionally been used to generate electricity. But what of wind turbines built on top of sensitive, natural environments – does low-carbon energy still help reduce emissions if it involves disturbing the kinds of habitats that are effective at trapping carbon and keeping it out of the atmosphere? This is an important question, but it is one that is too rarely being asked.
In our recent study, we found that wind farms in Spain are being built on rare peat bogs that store vast quantities of planet-warming carbon. Because these habitats are so poorly mapped, there’s a good chance that this mistake is being replicated in many other places throughout Europe, including the UK. Peatlands are a natural carbon sink and, despite covering less than 3% of the Earth’s land surface, they contain 20% of all the carbon stored in soils worldwide.
Because some peatlands aren’t mapped, they have often been ignored, despite their important role in slowing climate change. Blanket bogs are a rare and unique type of peatland that cover entire landscapes with a distinctive vegetation, often composed of cotton grass, heather and Sphagnum mosses, which is a particularly effective species for locking up carbon.
In the UK and Ireland, blanket bogs cover great expanses and are a key part of the landscape in Flow Country, a region of the north of Scotland, and in the north and south Pennines in England. In France or Spain, this habitat is rare, but our research uncovered 14 unrecorded and unprotected blanket bogs in northern Spain that represent the southernmost edge of this habitat’s range in Europe.
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