Research partnership to investigate the effects of offshore wind on marine life

A new Ecological Consequences of Offshore Wind research programme (ECOWind) is set to investigate how offshore wind projects may affect marine life and deliver policy-ready solutions that aim to enable offshore wind and thriving marine ecosystems to coexist.

The UK Government recently announced ambitious plans for the deployment of 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030, helping the nation to transition away from fossil fuels and to work towards no net carbon emissions by 2050. However, the construction and operation of wind farms could have a range of cumulative negative effects on marine life: for instance, seabirds could collide with rotating turbine blades, whales and dolphins could be disturbed by the noise of construction, or the seabed could be disrupted by the laying of cables. There are also potential opportunities for environmental enhancement through marine ‘net gain’, an approach to development that aims to leave the environment in a better state than before.

The UK has set out a number of commitments to conserving marine biodiversity of all types. Marine biodiversity faces pressures from a range of human activities and from climate change, and understanding how the development of offshore wind at scale contributes to these pressures is necessary for conservation. ECOWind sets out to understand how the large-scale deployment of offshore wind can meet climate goals whilst ensuring the UK maintains a healthy marine environment.

Chair of ECOWind’s Scientific Advisory Group, Professor Colin Moffat, commented: “The expansion of offshore wind is essential, but we have to ensure it is carried out with the marine environment in mind. ECOWind aims to fill some of the biggest gaps in our knowledge to help inform this process as efficiently as possible – by ensuring that the research undertaken is genuinely useful and usable for policy, regulation, and management.”

Following a successful ‘call for applications’, inviting UK research institutes to submit proposals to investigate the cumulative impacts of offshore wind on marine life, ECOWind is currently assessing a shortlist. Ultimately, three projects will be selected and provided with a total of £7 million of funding by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and The Crown Estate.

“ECOWind takes a fresh, impact-led approach, based on nurturing the creation of robust science with direct applications for marine policy and management,” said Professor Dickon Howell, ECOWind Champion. “What does that mean? It means this is not science to be kept on the shelf, but work that will directly inform how we develop our renewable energy landscape as a nation, and make sure we do that without damaging the incredible abundance of UK seas”.

The ECOWind Champion Team are sector experts who will work closely with the research teams to ensure they are producing policy-relevant advice throughout the course of the programme.

ECOWind’s research findings will be periodically published on the ECOWind website and will be developed alongside marine policymakers and managers to ensure that outputs are used to inform governance and management. The projects will work closely together to ensure their outputs are aligned, and will ultimately contribute to an ecosystem-level assessment of the cumulative impacts of offshore wind on the marine environment.

ECOWind is part of the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme (OWEC), led by The Crown Estate in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, which gathers and harnesses data and evidence to drive forward the sustainable and coordinated expansion of offshore wind whilst supporting clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas.

“We are excited to see ECOWind take shape into a truly pioneering programme of work,” said Mandy King, Programme Manager for OWEC. “By bringing together industry, government, and some of the brightest brains in the academic community, we will be connecting science and policy at every step of the way to make sure that the research generated is as effective as possible.”

The package of selected research projects is expected to be announced in July.

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