Blanket bogs are a rare type of peatland usually lying in upland areas where there is lots of rain and temperatures are low. Often they are buffeted by strong winds all year round, which makes them ideal sites for wind farms.
However, these installations could harm local ecosystems, scientists at Nottingham Trent University have warned, adding that blanket bogs, when left in their natural state, help improve water quality, store water and support biodiversity.
The scientists have reached this conclusion after examining the impacts of more than 640 wind turbines on blanket bogs across the European Union and the United Kingdom. They also studied the effects of more than 250km of vehicle access tracks that cut through these sites.
They have found that wind farms could pose a threat to these unique ecosystems because they adversely impact peatlands’ hydrology, ground-level conditions and biodiversity.
“The potential long-term damage to this habitat is still unclear, but evidence supports negative impacts of wind farm developments on this critical habitat,” says Guaduneth Chico, a scientist at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences who led the research.
“Blanket bogs represent a particularly vulnerable habitat, the study of which should be prioritized with the aim of protecting and restoring by reviewing the national inventories of this habitat across Europe,” the scientist emphasizes.
Beyond supporting ecosystems, peatlands also act as the planet’s largest terrestrial carbon store and serve as a natural carbon sink. Despite covering less than 3% of the planet’s land surface, peatlands account for more than a quarter of all terrestrial carbon.
Many of these peatlands worldwide are being drained, however, to make way for development. Blanket bogs across Europe have also been harmed by agricultural and other activities. Wind farms, it appears, add to these peatlands’ troubles, the scientists say.
“There is an urgent need to assess the impacts of wind farms on peatlands of all types to ensure that efforts to meet energy targets do not jeopardize the environment,” Chico says.
While the scientists support the adoption of renewable energy as a priority, they argue that siting wind farms should be done with great care to ensure that they do not harm local ecosystems.