The Crown Estate has today announced an increased investment of £2 million in ECOWind - a four-year research programme led by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) that brings together experts from science, policy and industry to understand how offshore wind affects ecosystems, species and habitats.
The additional funds will be used to bring forward a fourth project, Benthic-Offshore Wind Interactions Evaluation (BOWIE). Through BOWIE, the University of Southampton will work with partners to investigate the impact of offshore wind expansion on seabed invertebrate and fish species, taking into consideration other pressures on the marine environment such as climate change and trawling. The project findings will then assist in informing Defra’s Offshore Wind Environmental Improvement Package (OWEIP), which is an integral part of the British Energy Security Strategy (BESS), ultimately helping to overcome issues that can create uncertainty in consent decision making processes.
Three existing ECOWind projects, funded through a £7.5 million investment from NERC and The Crown Estate, are already working alongside each other to address environmentally focussed knowledge gaps, and provide new evidence in support of marine policy and the sustainable management of offshore wind development. These projects are called ECOWind-ACCELERATE, ECOWINGS, and PELAgIO, and are being delivered by Bangor University, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and University of Aberdeen, respectively.
The UK Government has set ambitious targets for offshore wind and the recent report into accelerating deployment of offshore wind farms by Tim Pick, the UK’s first offshore wind champion, highlighted the vital contribution data and evidence must play in tackling climate change. BOWIE is the 28th project supported by funds drawn down from the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme, a unique £50 million initiative that enables the gathering of data and evidence to support the sustainable development of offshore wind in the UK. The programme is led by The Crown Estate, in partnership with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and brings together a 27-member steering group with representation from environmental NGOs and industry bodies as well as governments from all four nations, to ensure data and evidence can positively impact the whole of the UK.
Mandy King, Programme Director of the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme said: "The seabed offers exciting potential to support nature recovery, unlock huge opportunity for renewable energy, and play a major role in energy security. That means it is becoming an increasingly busy space so it is more important than ever before to build a holistic, evidence-based view of the whole of the seabed so that we can maximise its potential for the benefit of the nation and the natural world.
“We are therefore proud to support ECOWind with £2 million further funding that, amongst other outcomes, will play a vital role in informing long-term policy decisions to protect our natural environment across the UK seabed whilst delivering much-need offshore wind capacity."
Philip Turner, Marine Policy Development Manager at The Crown Estate said: “Collaboration between the many stakeholders across our marine environment – from industry and policymakers to fishers and coastal communities – is key to successfully meeting the UK’s renewable energy targets. That’s why I’m delighted the programme can support a project that brings together the academic community and offshore wind industry. The BOWIE project will provide vital data and evidence on a range of impacts as a consequence of undersea cabling from not only offshore wind, but also other industries. We hope that this new information will ultimately support with delivering nature positive offshore wind in accelerated timeframes.”
Dickon Howell, ECOWind Champion said: ”We are delighted BOWIE are coming on board to provide vital evidence on impacts of offshore wind development and other human activities on benthic communities and natural capital. This will add an extra dimension to the existing work across the ECOWind Programme and ‘join-up’ research across all areas of the marine environment within the Programme.”
The BOWIE project will begin shortly. This project marks another crucial step forward in the development of sustainable offshore wind energy, and its success will help to ensure the long-term viability of this industry.