New research examines the effect of offshore windfarms on marine ecosystems

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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 (Defra).

The four year programme will fund 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.

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.”

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 are set to inform key decision-makers in the management of UK waters to help achieve the country’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.

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 (BEIS), and Defra.