Workshop Using electrical grid to increase the connectivity of protected natural areas

When high-tension lines are crossing wooded areas, vegetation management is a key issue for Transmission System Operators (TSO) when aiming at a safe and steady electrical supply. Most TSO proceed to regular vegetation cuttings so that trees are never high enough to touch or to get too close to the conductor. This vegetation management is costly and does not promote biodiversity since in some cases heavy machines are disturbing plant and animal species.

The main idea of the LIFE Elia-RTE project is to test 7 alternative methods to manage vegetation, which can both promote biodiversity and ensure electrical safety. These methods are : planting structured forest edges, planting conservatory orchards, restoring natural habitats, digging ponds, fighting against invasive plants, mowing or pasturing, or sowing flowering meadows.

During 6,5 years, this project is implemented in Belgium (along 155 km of lines) and France (7 sites) to combine electrical safety and biodiversity. The project is financed by the European Commission, Elia (Belgian Transmission System Operator), RTE (French Transmission System Operator), and the Walloon Region.

The methodology developed in the LIFE Elia-RTE encompasses the following steps : initial mapping to identify potentialities, agreements with local stakeholders, works achieved by subcontractors (planting, cutting, soil scrapping…), and writing of a long-term management plan. Besides, biological and economical indicators are also monitored. Results obtained within the ongoing project are encouraging : planting structured forest edges (171 ha), planting conservatory orchards (16,5 ha), restoring natural habitats (37 ha), digging ponds (118 ponds), fighting against invasive plants (29 ha), mowing or pasturing (40 ha), or sowing flowering meadows (24 ha).

By implementing actions that are enhancing biodiversity, constraints related to linear infrastructures management are turned into opportunities for nature protection. In a stable ecological network, connections between biodiversity core areas are of upmost importance, like in the Natura 2000 network. The LIFE Elia-RTE crosses 31 Natura 2000 sites in Belgium and 4 in France. Forest corridors created for high-tension lines can play this role for a wide variety of species by connecting areas where they can mate, feed and develop. Connectivity is ensured either by linear corridors or by stepping-stones.

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Electricity transmission, linear infrastructures, ecological network, vegetation management, biodiversity, innovation, local stakeholders, forest corridors.