Coo, Michael McIntyre and I together in the last weekend’s Sunday Times magazine. Fame at last. Well, actually, I got some pithy quotes into an article about wind farms at sea - I'll probably have to wait for an invitation to appear live at the Apollo!
My quotes picked up the usual smattering of comments at work that always provide a welcome reminder that people are out there reading stuff in media land. As the week has gone by the interest has continued - which is unusual, perhaps not just chip wrappings.
Richard Girling's article started and ended in deeply cynical places with regard to offshore wind – not about the technology or about the climate crisis it’s designed to tackle but about the prospect of ever meeting the desire to see such developments put in ‘the right place’.
And he has a point.
Here at the RSPB we believe that wind energy in general and offshore wind in particular have a vital role to play in contributing to the renewable revolution. But the industrialisation of our marine environment means a massive change that must be planned carefully if we are reap the harvest of the wind without avoidable wrecking of a natural environment about which we know so little.
Girling scoffs at the environmentalist’s mantra of 'we're for wind energy, but in the right place'. But at sea he nails a truth and a real difficulty. Lack of knowledge is a clear and present danger to the hidden nature of the marine environment – and, in many ways to the aspirations of the industry as it seeks to develop it’s potential.
Years of failure to tackle the data deficit and to designate sites at sea have left an industry working blind. They have often, creditably, tried to fill the gap. The London Array caused as sufficient concern that we objected because of limited knowledge of the importance of the area for wintering red-throated divers (pictured) – the developer’s own surveys revealed entirely unexpected numbers of divers and as a result redesigned their scheme. Their approach and response was exemplary and not only did we withdraw our objection we supported it. Data collected by the industry has been key to designating the Outer Thames and Liverpool Bay Special Protection Areas (SPAs) – two significant steps forward in safeguarding seabirds at sea – both nearly thirty years after their original deadline but a start.
But we do and will continue to object to wind proposals on land and at sea, it’s a tiny proportion of the proposals that come forward for scrutiny. We also work with developers and advise on approaches to mitigate the impact of their proposals.
In the Greater Wash – the central focus of the Sunday Times article – we are working constructively with developers to ensure that the impacts are assessed. We welcome this early and continued involvement and hope to continue the current level of engagement. Our aim is to ensure the consenting process for offshore wind energy in the Greater Wash is based on a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment, so that renewable energy can be delivered at the scale needed, without compromising our natural heritage
Working hard to get decisions right on a case by case basis is, we believe, entirely compatible with our analysis that the development of wind power on and offshore is essential if the UK is to meet its climate change commitments.
We’re a windy island, offshore there is massive potential and we've got to make it work because the threat of climate change is so great - and we are absolutely committed to this. The challenge is for Government to show much needed leardership and, with developers, to face up to this lack of data. They should invest in strategic surveying of our waters rather than relying on the pre-construction surveys developers currently have to do. Not only would this make more sense, it might save time and money too by clearly identifying areas that are and are not suitable for development – an approach that will give meaning to finding the right place.
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