Scottish Power Renewables Whitelee Windfarm visitor centre

Managing the Habitat at Whitelee Windfarm

At Whitelee Windfarm a Habitat Management Plan was introduced as a way of improving the environmental conditions of the moorland, providing an overall positive benefit. The Habitat Management Area at Whitelee covers 2547ha (equivalent to 3,429 football pitches) and management of the area for the benefit of wildlife will be ongoing for the lifespan of the windfarm. 

The Habitat Management Plan

 The Habitat Management Plan is required as part of the agreement signed for consent of the windfarm. It is overseen by the Habitat Management Group (comprised of members from ScottishPower Renewables (SPR)Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Local Authorities and landowners) and is implemented by ScottishPower Renewables who manage the work.

There are four key aims set out in the Habitat Management Plan that are implemented through various aims and prescriptions:

  • Improving the structural diversity of heather dominated moorland to benefit a range of plant and animal species
  • Restoration of 900ha of blanket bog from commercial forestry and enhancing almost 1500ha of degraded open moorland
  • Enhancing the site for the benefit of Black Grouse
  • Mitigating for any negative effects to Merlin arising as a result of the windfarm

Peatland Restoration

The main habitat at Whitelee is peatland and at the time of construction the site was badly damaged as a result of drainage networks, overgrazing and forestry plantations. ScottishPower Renewables is now aiming to restore the area to a functioning bog habitat. This is an ambitious plan due to the condition of the site and its size.

Conventional techniques such as ditch blocking and grazing management are being used to restore the habitat. ScottishPower Renewables is also taking the lead in devising innovative techniques that help restore deforested areas back to bog habitat. Historically trees have been planted on unsuitable deep peat habitats and it was thought that after felling, the areas would naturally restore to bog. However, monitoring has shown this has not happened and the ridge and furrow patterns that remained after forestry removal continue to elevate the ground above the water table. This, combined with the regeneration of conifer seedlings, continues to dry out the ground and does not create the required conditions for bog habitats.

The techniques that are currently being trialled by ScottishPower Renewables use machinery to essentially flatten the ground and allow the water table to reach the surface. This in turn creates suitable conditions that promote the growth of peat forming vegetation. Preliminary monitoring results from the current trials are looking to be positive, with the ground visibly flatter and the water table at the surface.

This aim to restore bog is in line with current Scottish Government targets to restore peatland habitats. The benefits associated with peatland restoration are numerous, including carbon capture, flood prevention, habitat enhancement and improvement of water quality. In addition, restoring the peatland habitat will be of benefit to many species including waders such as Curlew and Snipe.

Flora and Fauna

Although management of the site is focussed on improving the habitat, this in turn provides benefit to the rich variety of wildlife found at Whitelee. A wide range of plants and animals are found across the site, from sphagnum mosses and cotton-grass to common lizards and Curlew.

Many bird species can be observed when walking around Whitelee, including waders such as Snipe and Curlew which hold breeding territories on the site and raptors such as Merlin and Short-eared owl that are frequently seen hunting on the site.

The site is also rich in plant life. In addition to typical peatland species such as Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) and Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), the nationally rare liverwort species Veilwort (Pallayicinia lyelli) has been recorded at Whitelee. This is the only site where Veilwort has been recorded in Scotland and due to its vulnerable status throughout Europe, is of great significance. 

The Habitat Management Plan is an iterative process that will be carried out for the duration of the windfarm, and will be revised based on the results of trial work and monitoring.

The Future

The Habitat Management Plan is an iterative process that will be carried out for the duration of the windfarm, and will be revised based on the results of trial work and monitoring. 

ScottishPower Renewables is committed to the restoration and enhancement if the site, which demonstrates how developments and nature can co-exist alongside each other. The habitat management work undertaken at Whitelee will provide an overall benefit to wildlife in the area and the peatland restoration work in particular contribute to achieving national targets for restored peatland.