As we recognise World Environment Day, ENA's Senior SHE Advisor, Mike Leppard highlights the work that the energy networks are doing to protect and restore the environment.
It is fair to say the last year has been challenging for people up and down the country as lockdowns slowly ease and life moves into a new, slightly nervous normal. For Britain’s energy network operators, their focus has remained on keeping energy flowing to homes and businesses across the country.
While they are responsible for delivering a vital public service, what is perhaps less well known is their commitment to protect, enhance and restore the environment. They are involved in a wide range of projects that help to minimise their impact on the environment while protecting their infrastructure from the effects of extreme weather and climate change.
This year’s World Environment Day, with its theme of restoration is therefore an ideal time to reflect as we look to build back better and greener over the coming year.
The UK’s energy networks have invested heavily in resilience and adaptation, worked hard to significantly reduce their business carbon footprints and to have a positive effect on the environment in which they operate. They have developed targets and methodologies on carbon reporting which are set out in their Environmental Business Plans and work closely with communities and their representatives to identify areas where they can play an active, beneficial role.
Working with others is vital to help them understand the interdependencies and opportunities associated with the land that they own. Collaborating with local groups and communities helps networks to develop new approaches that can enhance biodiversity as well as provide more general environmental benefits such as improving local air quality while reducing waste and plastic, and pollination.
This focus on the environment is particularly relevant in land remediation. The UK has over 400,000 hectares of contaminated land, much of it a legacy of the Industrial Revolution. That is roughly the equivalent of 300,000 football pitches. To date, the networks have remediated nearly three million square meters of land.
Network operators work in partnership with regulators such as Natural England on works within designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest, like woodland, and hedgerows. They employ and work with ecologists to survey and preserve protected species and protected sites, while ensuring nesting seasons are observed.
As well as undergrounding cables in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, network operators are undertaking rewilding and afforestation projects across the UK. These initiatives reflect a commitment to natural capital and net gain principles aimed at improving and restoring our natural environment.
Given the varied geographies in which the networks operate, one issue they are particularly focused on is protecting trees within their areas. They are some of the biggest employers of tree surgeons in the country who they use across the entire networks to maintain both trees and vegetation around their infrastructure to ensure that the trees are well looked after.
The networks are also taking steps to minimise the continued spread of ash dieback, which is a highly infectious, devastating disease that is affecting millions of British trees. Ash trees are critical to our ecosystems, preventing floods and filtering water and it is critical we take steps to protect them. ENA is running a programme of work contributing to the fight against this invasive disease.
Network operators have seen a marked acceleration in ash dieback in many areas during 2020. They are currently working with the Forestry Commission and Local Authorities to support their tree planting and landscape recovery policies post ash dieback, and this includes the application of the Tree Council’s Ash Dieback Toolkit to manage the impact of the disease.
Work is planned and targeted on ash trees near to overhead power lines using a risk-based approach to ensure continued network resilience. Networks are using state-of-the-art innovation too: Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) measurements with data being used in tandem with aerial technology to provide 3D imagery.
As the eyes of the world turn to Glasgow for COP26 in November, the networks will continue to innovate – using new technologies and methods to help protect and restore the environment in which they operate. The environmental, social and economic benefits of building a sustainable future are just too big to ignore.
About Energy Networks Association
We’re the industry body for the energy networks. Our members own and operate the wires and pipes which carry electricity and gas into your community, supporting our economy. The wires and pipes are the arteries of our economy, delivering energy to over 30 million homes and businesses across the UK and Ireland. To do this safely and reliably, the businesses which run the networks employ 45,000 people and have spent and invested over £60 billion in the last eight years.