In today’s society, everyone expects a steady source of energy 24/7 to power our computers, lights, household appliances and more widely our industries. For a Transmission System Operator (TSO), this is a big challenge in forest areas, since trees coming near or touching overhead line conductors could trigger a power failure. To ensure a safe electricity supply, the TSO regularly destroys vegetation under high-tension lines, but this is not only costly for the operators, it also affects species and natural habitats, and is unpopular or even unaccepted by the local people.
Two system operators — ELIA and RTE — in cooperation with authorities, environmental consultancies and NGOs have undertaken an initiative to test alternative methods for maintaining the strips under the powerlines and creating green corridors in wooded areas. It took place in Belgium and France, in areas both inside and outside Natura 2000 sites, and was co-financed by EU LIFE funding.
The project implemented seven innovative alternative methods, and gave a significant role to local stakeholders. Actions conducted under high-tension overhead lines include planting or restoring forest edges, planting orchards, restoring natural habitats like peatlands, calcareous meadows and moors, using traditional breeds of cattle to maintain pasture, sowing wild flower meadows, removing invasive plants and digging ponds. These actions have been undertaken across 580 ha, 190 ha (33 %) of which are on Natura 2000 sites (31 sites in Belgium and four sites in France).
In addition, the new management methods are 1.4-3.9 times cheaper than traditional methods (using heavy machinery), on a 30-year timescale. Moreover, a return on the investment made is expected between 3 and 12 years after the end of the project.
The project endeavoured to rely on local partnerships to achieve its objectives. Communication actions are used to reach stakeholders involved in forest management: public and private landowners, administrative authorities, governmental bodies, environmental NGOs, hunters, farmers, tourists and of course the electricity TSO.