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23 August 2021

The Crown Estate collaborates with Natural Environment Research Council and Defra to address the effect of offshore windfarms on marine ecosystems

A new research programme has been launched to address the critical gap in understanding how marine ecosystems will respond to the continued growth of offshore wind as the sector ramps up to deliver 40GW of offshore wind by 2030.

The £7 million programme – known as ECOWind - is a joint initiative led by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in partnership with The Crown Estate, which manages the seabed of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The four year programme will fund leading edge research into how offshore windfarms affect the marine environment alongside other growing pressures on UK ecosystems including climate change and human activities such as fishing. In particular, the programme will focus on how populations and inter-species interactions are responding to offshore wind deployment and how marine observations can be enhanced through innovative technologies to improve our understanding.

The research findings will inform key decision-makers in the management of UK waters to help achieve the UK’s commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 whilst ensuring net environmental gain and marine environmental restoration.

ECOWind will engage the academic community, helping to develop long-term successful relationships between researchers, government, and industry. It will work in collaboration with the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme, which facilitates the sustainable and coordinated expansion of offshore wind to help meet the UK’s commitments to low carbon energy transition whilst supporting clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas.

The Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme is led by The Crown Estate, which has committed to a five year £25 million ‘kick-starter’ investment. It is being delivered in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Professor Susan Waldron, NERC’s Director of Research and Skills, said: “The UK has set a legal requirement to reach Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which will reduce our contribution to climate change. Expanding sustainable energy generation is at the heart of the government’s strategy but it’s important we understand the response from wildlife and marine ecosystems to help manage this sustainably. Working closely with The Crown Estate and Defra, this collaborative programme will analyse the ecological consequence of large-scale expansion of offshore windfarms to inform future policy decisions throughout UK waters.”

Mandy King, Programme Manager for the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme at The Crown Estate, said: "We are incredibly proud to be supporting this investment in leading edge research. The programme will bring together industry, government and some of the brightest brains in the academic community who will use the power of science to help us better understand long-term environmental change to our precious marine ecosystems and the role of offshore wind in it. We are keen to better understand the opportunities for environmental benefits and gains from the use of innovative new technologies.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “The UK is a leader in marine protection and this pioneering research programme will ensure that we continue to work towards achieving clean and biologically diverse seas. This collaboration will build on the work of the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme and inform plans to develop more clean energy while ensuring we protect our precious marine life.”

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