Climate change and the countryside

Using the land to mitigate and adapt to climate change
By 2026, reforms to agri-environment schemes and the Common Agricultural Policy mean landowners are paid to manage land to retain and absorb carbon dioxide.

Farmers have helped to reduce CO2 emissions by moving away from crops that require large amounts of synthetic, oil derived fertilisers, towards low-input, sometimes organic, systems.

To adapt to the changing climate, new areas of coastal wetland will be common, due to rising sea levels. Increased rainfall will be absorbed through better land management and technologies such as porous concrete. Biodiverse reservoirs will store water to take us through droughts.

The countryside and energy

Rural renewables, including wind turbines and solar panels, will supply the countryside with energy. Wind turbines will be the size of tall trees rather than the height of skyscrapers. Biomass, in the form of wood fuel, will come from wildlife-rich, low input coppice woodlands, now a common sight across England.

Overall power needs will have decreased due to energy-efficient buildings and modes of transport. There will also be an increase in small scale renewable schemes, with many villages supplying much of their own heat and electricity.

Fact or science fiction? Give us your views below.


13 responses

  1. Phillip Bratby

    You do not make clear what type of wind turbines you are describing. Current large wind turbines are many times as tall as churches or trees, being over 100m to tip of blade. These wind turbines are on the scale of large industrial plant and can cover large areas. They produce a pitifully small amount of electricity on an intermittent and unpredictable basis.

    Hopefully by 2026 energy (and thus power) demand will have fallen (but there are no guarantees). In a modern, industrial society, with most equipment requiring a well-defined supply of electricity (frequency and voltage) on demand, i.e. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it is essential that we maintain a robust national grid to move supplies around to meet demand. Only this way can the base load be guaranteed and power be moved around to where it is needed. I would like someone to explain to me how villages can provide their own reliable electricity supply. The words used above are ‘much of their own electricity’. If ‘much’ is not ‘all’, then the village has to be connected to a grid to provide the rest. And if it is connected to a grid, then somewhere on the grid there has to be spare capacity to make up the shortfall. What you are suggesting sounds like going back to the old days before the national grid, when every town had its own power station and when the electricity supply was unreliable.

    5 December, 2007 at 4:14 pm

  2. Phillip Bratby is right to condemn wind turbines because “They produce a pitifully small amount of electricity on an intermittent and unpredictable basis.” He is also right about the size of the latest turbines being forced through planning. They are 125 to 130 metres (410 to 426 feet) high – almost exactly the height of the London Eye.

    But even these monsters will be dwarfed by a new generation intended to reach up into more favourable wind conditions.

    Now that BWEA, the wind industry trade association, has been forced to admit its theoretical estimates of emission reduction have been greatly exagerated (the correct calculation gives half the saving) this could mean a doubling of the huge turbine numbers already being demanded.

    Peat bogs are indeed an important ‘carbon sink’, and there is ample evidence to show that the massive concrete foundations necessary to support giant wind turbines, plus the necessary substantial road infrastructure for installation and maintenance, destroys peat bogs along with the flora and fauna dependent on them.

    This paper from Dr John Etherington, author of The Case Against Wind “Farms”, gives information everyone should be aware of. He is independent of government and wind industry and writes from ecological principle without financial reward.

    Etherington, J. (2007) The Failing Wind

    The Government recognizes two major energy challenges: the need to “tackle climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and the need to ensure we have secure energy supplies” (1). Wind power fails on both these counts and neither can it end the oft-made “threat of nuclear power…” (2)

    1) Wind farms produce little electricity for a huge ‘footprint’, and it is unreliable

    A large wind turbine generates 2.0 megawatts (MW) or more and, with an average wind limitation figure of near 25% (load factor), will produce a running average of 0.5 MW. Compare this with a big power station of 1500 MW which gives a running average of 1000 MW, or more. It would need at least 2000 turbines to displace this and at 0.2 km2 per turbine would require 400 km2 of land to provide about 2% of UK average generation! Into a bad bargain, the conventional station cannot be closed, as is needed to cover low wind-speed periods as discussed below – the problem of intermittency.

    2) Wind power has minimal impact on CO2 emissions
    Government’s own figure for saving of CO2 emission by renewable power generation, mainly wind, is just 9.2 million tonnes per year by 2010.
    That amount is less than the emission from a single middle sized coal-fired power station, and more tellingly, it is less than four ten-thousandths (0.0004) of global total CO2 emission and stands no chance of altering atmospheric CO2 concentration, still less deflecting climate change (3a & b).

    3) Wind power is intermittent and unpredictable

    A recent report from UCTE, the European transmission coordinator put the matter succinctly: – “The variable contributions from wind power must be balanced almost completely with other back-up generation capacity located elsewhere” (4). Because the UK has a small capacity grid-connection to Europe, the back-up generation will need to be fossil fuel power stations in this country – some indeed dedicated to supporting wind.

    4) Wind power cannot replace nuclear generation

    This is dismissed by the Sustainable Development Commission which wrote: – “… it would be unrealistic to assume that wind energy would displace any nuclear capacity…” (5). Nuclear generation is ideally suited to providing base-load generation, running continuously at peak output except for servicing. Intermittent wind power cannot do this.
    Currently, the UK’s nuclear power stations provide almost 10,000 MW of electricity which is 18% of our average generation. All except Sizewell B are run at constant peak output as baseload stations. It is clearly nonsense to argue that wind power can in any way replace nuclear. Not only is wind power inconstant, but the power output of even the biggest turbines, (say, average 1 MW) is no match for a nuclear power station. It’s like comparing a bicycle with a freight train!

    5) Wind power is expensive
    Wind power is two to three times as expensive as conventionally generated electricity (6) a problem which is addressed by the covert subsidy of the Renewables Obligation, and associated extras. “Without the renewable obligation certificates nobody would be building wind farms.” (7). All electricity consumers pay substantially for this in their bills, providing a subsidy to the wind industry which will total more than £1 billion/year by 2010 (8). In 2005, the Commons’ Committee of Public Accounts criticized this arrangement: – “The Renewables Obligation is currently at least four times more expensive than the other means of reducing carbon dioxide currently used in the United Kingdom……Requiring users to source supplies from uneconomic providers has the same affect as taxing users to subsidize the providers, but is not as transparent or amenable to parliamentary control.”

    5) Wind power is economically damaging

    The target renewable figure for 2010 will require more than 6500 turbines (2.0 MW) insome of the finest coastal and upland landscapes (necessary for high wind availability).
    The impact will be enormous. Many parts of Britain depend on tourism, for example in rural Wales it is probably an order of magnitude more valuable than agriculture and there is evidence that wind development will deter tourists. A Scottish survey suggested that more than a quarter might be deterred from returning by ‘turbinisation’ whilst, in 2003, the Wales Tourist Board concluded from a survey of businesses in mid-Wales that “Just over half of the respondents thought wind farms have already and will continue to have an adverse effect on visitors coming to the area” (9a&b). The financial implication is dire. The maximum predictable earning by wind electricity, e.g. in Wales, is much smaller, by more than 30 times, than that of the tourism which it will harm.

    Property values may also be at risk. A study of its members’ opinions by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in 2004 concluded that “60% of the sample suggested that wind farms decrease the value of residential properties where the development is within view…” (10) In mid-Wales, individual properties have been shown at valuation to lose perhaps 25% of their worth (11).

    6) Wind power is environmentally damaging

    In addition their impact on the landscape, there is unequivocal evidence that wind farms in some places kill large numbers of birds and bats. Soaring raptors and other large slow-flying birds are particularly at risk. The RSPB is at last beginning to oppose some planning applications on such grounds, e.g. on the Isle of Lewis where there is risk to eagles (Birds August 2007). Altamont Pass in California has taken a gigantic toll of raptors – including more than 75 golden eagles per year, and wind farms are known to be killing hundreds of bats per year in the US (12 a & b).

    Many planned wind farms are situated on areas of deep blanket peat which are made up of stored carbon compounds which have accumulated over many thousands of years but are prone to rapid oxidation if they are drained, as is almost inevitable if access roads and deep wind turbine foundations are constructed. Though the energy and carbon payback time of a wind turbine is only a year or so (13), in deep peat areas this may be much more than doubled by the oxidative loss of stored carbon (14) – a paradoxical situation in which CO2 is emitted to save its emission!


    Government policies with regard to wind power development are fatally flawed. This damaging industry can provide only a tiny electricity supply of low grade ‘wobbliness’, at huge expense and needing subsidy paid by all consumers. Furthermore, the economic, environmental and, ultimately, political damage are unacceptable.


    1. Energy White Paper: Our Energy Future (2007).
    2. Yes2Wind website.
    3. a. DEFRA (2004) Consultation on the review of the UK Climate Change Programme (the report actually gives a figure of 2.5 Mt carbon/year saved by renewable electricity generation [mainly wind]. This is equivalent to 9.2 Mt CO2). b. OECD Factbook 2005. Economic Environmental and Social Statistics (c. 24,000 Mt CO2 total global emission p.a. of human origin – by ratio the UK renewable electricity target saving is 0.00038 – about four ten-thousandths).
    4. UCTE (2007) European Wind Integration Study: Towards a Successful Integration of Wind Power into European Electricity Grids.
    5. Sustainable Development Commission (2005) Windpower in the UK.
    6. PB Power (2006) Powering the nation (an update of RAE’s 2004 report, The Costs of Generating Electricity.
    7. Paul Golby, CE of E.ON UK quoted in Daily Telegraph 26/03/2005.
    8. Energy White Paper:Meeting the Energy Challenge (2003) S.4.7
    9. a. VisitScotland (2003) Investigation into the Potential Impact of Wind Farms on Tourism in Scotland. b. Wales Tourist Board (October 2003) Investigation into the Potential Impact of Wind Farms on Tourism in Wales. Summary report;
    10. Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (2004) Impact of wind farms on the value of residential property and agricultural land.
    11. Remax Estate Agency (2005). Report on a sample of properties inspected near a proposed wind farm at Esgairwen Fawr .
    12. a. Center for Biological Diversity. Altamont Pass is the most lethal wind farm in North America for raptors. B. Scientific American February (2004) When Blade Meets Bat (the author is a writer for Windpower Monthly).
    13. House of Lords (2004) Science and Technology Committee Fourth Report.Appendix: energy payback times.
    14. Hall, M. J. (2006). Peat, carbon dioxide payback and wind farms. REF.

    (Dr Etherington was formerly Reader in Ecology, University of Wales)

    6 December, 2007 at 1:14 am

  3. John Howard Norfolk

    Surely the points in FAVOUR of wind turbines are:

    1 they leave no waste
    2 they consume no resources
    3 they cause no pollution

    If we accept these three points then we should be embracing free windpower and taking other steps to reduce our energy consumption.

    22 January, 2008 at 10:01 pm

  4. Paul Kemp

    Windfarms: on-shore a disaster for landscape conservation, birdlife, peat and other moorland eco-systems, tourism and any chance of being able to forget temporarily that we live on a ludicrously overcrowded and thoroughly industrialised little island.
    Off-shore: a grave disturbance to fisheries and fragile marine eco-systems.
    It’s a tough call but if we have to have them they should go out a sea.

    6 February, 2008 at 6:01 pm

  5. Amanda Baker

    The United Nations have shown that animal farming is in the top three causes of all major environmental problems. Farmed animals cause more of our global climate change impact than all transport combined. In the UK, animal farming causes around 8% of our climate change gas emissions.

    UK should be subsidising our farmers to move away from animal farming. More sustainable, climate-friendly farming, like horticulture and agroforestry, will improve our countryside too.

    Pioneering stock-free farms, like the highly successful Tolhurst Organic Produce, are already showing the way. This will be great for biodiversity, habitats, rural livelihoods, public health – and the planet.

    29 February, 2008 at 10:04 am

  6. FamerJ

    Not so great for the biodiversity that depends on grazing livestock. I participated in the BTO swallow foraging survey that showed that swallows prefer foraging over cattle due to the higher insect populations. There are many other species that thrive in a livestock system – our farm has over 90 spp of birds in lowland Midlands, which all who have visited say is because of our traditional mixved farming system with a mix of intensive and extensive livestock and also arable. Many of our ecologically sensitive grasslands require a grazed ecosystem. What do we do with our beautiful hay meadows with their wildflowers and insects, that in turn provide a home for small mammals and my barn owls? Not so great for the ridge and furrow grassland that is part of our landscape (how else do you maintain it if not grazed?. Incidentally, what do we do with all the Grade 3-4 land that is not suitable for sustainable arable farming? Some can be planted to woodland, yes, but this will have substantial ecological impacts, not all of which will be positive.

    29 February, 2008 at 6:59 pm

  7. newbery

    Wind farms are the most visible sign of climate change in our landscape and the most damaging.

    2 March, 2008 at 12:52 am

  8. The soil releases carbon when it is bare. Gardeners and farmers can reduce carbon emissions by keeping the soil covered in the winter using a green manure. We can reduce the amount of water we use in gardening an agriculture by using mulches. Its time to move away from double digging!

    I support wind farms, including the one due to be built very close to me. I also think we should be considering generating our own power, be that solar hot water systems, or more high tech alternatives. I do think the government should have a guaranteed feed in tarrif for any electricity generated at home. Germany has such a tarriff and many householders now produce some electricity as they know they can use it and seel any spare back to the grid at a good price.

    6 March, 2008 at 2:38 pm

  9. Paul Kemp

    I’m a member of the Woodland Trust but have some misgivings about it’s emphasis on native species. I don’t believe this takes adequate account of climate change. Several native species already show signs of climate stress and this is only likely to get worse. If it’s our wish that Britain retains, and preferably significantly increases it’s woodland cover we are going to have to reasses our ideas about what we regard as ‘native’. At the moment I think we are overly influenced by what is historical and traditional but native must come to be understood as ‘native to our climate’. A much warmer and drier future Britain could still be wonderfully and abundantly wooded if we are prepared to put aside our nostalgia. If we insist on sticking exclusively to our traditional native trees we might end up with far fewer, sparse and very sickly woods and an impoverished landscape and ecosystem as a result.

    7 March, 2008 at 10:45 am

  10. Jean Johnson

    People in Pennine Lancashire were used in the 1950s to snow drifts 6ft high and the snow ploughs used to clear the winter roads.In 1963 this cold period, begun in the 1940s, reached its peak and froze the sea around the Lancashire coast.Scientists predicted an ice age ahead.
    Eventually the cold eased with 1976 heralding a warmer age which by 1989 produced summer temperatures of 30deg or more (in the Pennines!)and the winter snows and the snow ploughs were seen no more.In other areas rivers began to dry up and it was feared that England’s clay infrastructure would dry out leading to collapsing buildings.Scientists predicted runaway global warming ahead.
    In 1999 the hotter weather too reached its peak and the snow began to creep back on the hills.2006 even saw some snow plougha back in action,whilst the winter of 2007/8 was the coldest for a decade.Scientists predict normal weather ahead.
    Conclusion:temperatures,like stock market shares can go down as well as up

    17 May, 2008 at 7:32 pm

  11. Jean Johnson

    In respect of windfarms I don’t think that anybody has pointed out that when a windfarm developer claims that a particular wind farm will supply so many thousand homes with electricity this does not mean that it will supply all the electricity which this number of households will need to run their washing machines, freezers, vacuums, computers, televisions tumble dryers……and so on. It simply means that the wind farm will on average production rates provide enough electricity to allow that number of households to run a one bar electric fire for twelve hours a day

    20 May, 2008 at 4:32 pm

  12. John Ward

    People that advocate wind farms as the solution to our energy crisis clearly do not understand how they work. I live close to a 30-unit wind farm; it is amazing to note just how often they are NOT turning because of too little wind. I recall one bitterly cold December day when they were all stationary. They have a maximum wind speed limit too.
    So even if we had 10,000 units, what do we do when there is not enough wind – all stay in bed that day? Remember, you can’t just switch a gas-fired power station on at the drop of a hat, So get real, people.
    And by the way, they have a 20-year life; over that time it is most unlikely that any one unit will ever produce anything like the amount of energy that was consumed in manufacturing, transporting, erecting and maintaining it. QED

    3 June, 2008 at 7:26 pm

  13. Jeremy

    There should be a return to the use of water power. Not an answer to the problem, but returning to a source of power currently ignored.
    More efficient and cost effective water wheels / turbines would reduce the overall need for energy in buildings beside streams and rivers. Where the fall is sufficient this could provide a great % of electricity for villages where sustainable measures have been taken.

    More use should be made of wave energy in small schemes for remote coastal towns / villages.

    Domestic total energy systems should be introduced so that energy used for cooking, for instance, is used for electricity generation and heating.

    26 October, 2008 at 4:43 pm

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