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The Ecosystem Approach in ecological impact assessment: lessons learned from windfarm developments on peatlands in Scotland

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-165
JournalEnvironmental Impact Assessment Review
Early online date27 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018


The Ecosystem Approach introduced in 1994 through the Convention on Biological Diversity, together with related Ecosystem-based Management and Landscape Approaches, are frequently called upon to improve ecological impact assessment. Current practice typically does not have such a systems focus and we explore the potential for explicitly adopting an Ecosystem Approach in the Environmental Impact Assessment process using wind energy development on peatland, in Scotland, as a case study. Based on a review of 21 windfarm projects (>50 MW) approved by the Scottish Government we provide an overview of current practice and identify and discuss how the 12 principles of the Ecosystem Approach can help identify options for more appropriate impact assessment. These include defining functional units of analysis that reflect the spatial and temporal linkages of peatland elements through hydrological connections, rather than a focus on individual vegetation types and simple distance buffers. Our conclusions are not limited to peatland and are relevant wherever meaningful functional management units can be defined, including in marine environments. Our results also show that environmental statements for wind energy development in Scotland largely ignore ecosystem services and the people that benefit from them. As for threatened species and other biodiversity features, an Ecosystem Approach is a prerequisite to the meaningful inclusion of ecosystem services in impact assessment.

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