RSPB Scotland Corrimony has generated its first electricity from a new hydropower project. Alexa Morrison, our climate and energy senior policy officer, fills us in.
Hydropower is here!
We are very pleased to announce that a new hydropower project at RSPB Scotland Corrimony is now up and running! Corrimony joins a number of our reserves now hosting small-scale renewables technologies, such as our 1MW wind turbine at our UK headquarters, all part of our commitment to act on climate change and demonstrate how we can develop renewable energy in harmony with nature.
RSPB Scotland Corrimony is 8 miles West of Loch Ness, made up of moorland and native pine woodland, amazing views and a real sense of tranquility. It is home to some very special birds, including the Scottish crossbill, crested tit, black grouse and golden eagle. It is also now home to a 500kW hydro scheme, expected to generate 1,780 MWh electricity a year – more than double RSPB Scotland’s annual usage. In its first five days, it has generated enough power to boil 6,666 kettles! A few years in the planning, the project was developed by DHG Hydro Ltd, with close input by RSPB Scotland, and earlier this year was taken over by developers Hydropol and Renfin, who specialise in small and medium sized hydro power.
At RSPB we know that renewable energy in the wrong place can harm wildlife, but we also know that climate change is one of the greatest threats to nature. We need high levels of renewable energy – but sited in the right places. Our 2050 Energy Vision launched last year explained one way to make this happen at UK level, using mapping to identify sites with the least risk to wildlife. But how do we translate that into practice, and how do we as a wildlife organisation take action? We’ve blogged before about how we work with developers to make sure that nature is protected and helped by their projects; and we’ve also done it on our own reserves with wind turbines and solar panels. Now we have our first hydro scheme!
Water is taken out of the river Enrick at a new weir, travels down a 1 mile pipe to the power house, turns the turbine to generate electricity, then is returned to the river. The weir means that water is only removed when the water level is high enough – important for the bryophytes that live by the riverside and depend on damp surroundings. There also needed to be some tree felling – which has created some open habitat within the woodland, encouraging the spread of some important species such as spotted flycatcher and many kinds of dragonflies. The work was planned to avoid disturbing species at sensitive times and to avoid sensitive areas. In some cases – for example wood ant nests – we couldn’t avoid them, so had to relocate the nest instead.
Now the installation is completed: the turbine has started generating electricity and peace and quiet has returned to the reserve, allowing wildlife to settle back in. For now, there is a lot of bare soil, but plants are already starting to recolonise. By next summer, it will be hard to tell that anything has changed, unless you visit the water intake and see for yourself the engineering that enables a river to power hundreds of houses.
Amazingly for such a peaceful place, this isn’t the first time the reserve has accommodated renewable energy. There are still remnants of a Victorian hydro scheme by the waterfall, where you can even see the powerhouse reclaimed by the vegetation from when the reserve was parkland for the Corrimony estate. More recently, the reserve became host to seven pylons on the Beauly-Denny line, transporting wind energy from the north to consumers in the central belt. There is also a five turbine wind farm on adjacent land, and the hydro scheme shares a grid connection with two neighbouring schemes, saving money by working together.
Corrimony shows that it really is possible to produce renewable electricity in harmony with nature, even in the most remote places. This hydro scheme may be a first for RSPB Scotland, but our approach certainly isn’t: we always aim to work collaboratively with developers to help renewables in the right places come to fruition, so that what’s good for the climate is also good for nature
There's some different wildlife to look out for now autumn's here and more ways to help the nature in your garden as the days get shorter and cooler - RSPB Scotland's Jess Barrett takes you through what to expect over the next few months.
The changing of the seasons from summer into autumn is a beautiful time of year. As the night creeps back into the evenings and the temperatures drop our trees turn from lush vibrant greens to crisp rusty reds, yellows and oranges. It’s one of my favourite things to look out for at this time of year and who doesn’t love crunching through the fallen leaves and kicking them about?!
While we have to bid farewell to some of our much loved summer visitors as they leave for warmer climates, we’re joined by whole hosts of other species who either come to spend these colder months with us, or pass on through on their journeys to other wintering grounds.
Fieldfares will begin to arrive over the next month. These beautiful blue-grey thrushes will spend most of their time in open countryside, bordered by hedgerows and woodland, looking for grubs and worms. If the temperatures drop some of you may be lucky enough to spot one in your garden where they’ll come to look for berries if the ground is frozen or covered in snow. They are incredibly social and flock numbers can be as high as several hundred strong!
Redwings are smaller members of the thrush family, and will have begun arriving over the last month. The chestnut-red colour under their wing gives these birds their name and they have a distinctive pale stripe above their eyes. They also tend to avoid gardens unless the weather is very cold but look out for them on open fields, and keep an ear pricked for a thin, almost mournful sounding whistle on misty evenings over the next few months.
Last year you may remember saw huge numbers of waxwings in Scotland. These crested birds bring an exciting colour flash to the colder days; we’ll have to wait and see if we’re to be treated to another irruption of them this year.
Clear, cool autumn days are a great time to go on walks and see what nature you can spot, and how it changes the closer we get to the clocks going back and the chillier weather coming our way. There are also lots of ways you can help wildlife closer to home over the coming months.
September can be a quiet month for bird feeders with no more young mouths to feed and plentiful food being provided by nature. However, around now you’ll see garden birds beginning to return gradually. Keep a bit of food in your feeders so birds passing through know that there’s a regular source available there. Then as the temperatures get colder the birds will begin to visit more routinely. Putting food and water out often will be of great benefit to them as their natural sources of food become scarcer and water may freeze, and it also means you get the pleasure of seeing them back in your garden feeding away!
Insects and mammals love the warm carpet that fallen leaves provide so why not give the rake a break and leave the leaves as they fall for a bit? When you do come to sweep them away piling them into a corner will make a perfect home for hibernating hedgehogs.
This time of year also often treats us to stunning, blazing sunsets with blazing golden colours streaked across the sky. The red leaves of trees seem to glow in this light – it really is a stunning time to enjoy all that nature has to offer!
Last month Jim Densham, RSPB Scotland’s Senior Land Use Policy Officer, blogged about climate change and ask you all to sign this petition from our partners at Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, calling for strong climate targets from the Scottish Government. One of the things the petition is calling for is a Nitrogen Budget for Scotland and here Jim details more about this.
Stopping invisible pollution – why we need a Nitrogen Budget for Scotland
More than ten years ago I co-wrote an RSPB report titled ‘Force-feeding the Countryside’. The report showed that overuse of chemicals containing nitrogen, especially fertilisers, pollute some of our most sensitive habitats and kill wildlife. We highlighted Loch of Strathbeg as one of RSPB Scotland’s reserves where this type of pollution was causing major problems for the plant communities, and for grazing wildfowl, coots and dabbling ducks.
It wasn’t an easy environmental problem to communicate then and it still isn’t. That’s because the pollution and impacts are widespread, largely invisible, and need to be tackled by many parts of society. Also, and perhaps critically, the problem largely comes from a use of fertilisers which farmers rely on to grow the food we all eat. As with growing food, nitrogen is a good thing, but you can have too much of a good thing.
The problem of nitrogen pollution has never gone away but it is being talked about again as we look for new ways to tackle climate change. Nitrogen is bad for the climate - huge amounts of climate-damaging emissions are released to the atmosphere when fertilisers are made, and when fertilisers are spread on the land in an inefficient way they release nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Farming is the source of nearly a quarter of all of Scotland’s climate-damaging emissions and is the leading source of nitrous oxide pollution. Arguably farmers and land managers have most to do but we all need to change our behaviour. We can buy organic food where possible, reduce and recycle food waste, compost what we can, and use compost instead of chemical fertiliser in our gardens. As a society we use and waste way too much nitrogen – we must cut back and do much better at recycling biodegradable wastes.
To make this happen we are calling on Government to introduce a Nitrogen Budget in Scotland within the new Climate Change Bill. It would help Government to understand how much nitrogen is used and where it is lost, throughout Scotland. This knowledge could be used to design fair policies which cut emissions and pollution, and promote recycling. Government Ministers would then have confidence to set national targets for reducing our overall use of nitrogen and make us more self sufficient in growing our own food.
A Nitrogen Budget would help Scotland address a pollution problem which has been affecting our climate, and precious habitats, like at Loch of Strathbeg, for so many years. Join us and our partners in the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition in calling for a strong and ambitious Climate Change Bill which includes a Nitrogen Budget for Scotland – add your voice today at http://bit.ly/SCCSAct
For more detail on why a Nitrogen Budget is important and how it works, read this blog by our partner Nourish Scotland.