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Wetlands and orchards under transmission lines in Europe

Supporting the diversity of nature and varied recreational use enables versatile use of the land under transmission lines. Rather than emphasising what may not or ­cannot be done there, the focus is on the different uses that are permitted. European transmission system operators are making diverse use of transmission line clearings for different purposes. Fingrid is part of this work.

The fact that Finland is a sparsely populated country is an advantage, and most of our transmission line areas are located in forests. This is not the case in Central Europe, where legislation in some countries allows construction almost directly under the lines.

“The pressure related to land use in densely populated countries is much greater than here in Finland. The structure of transmission line towers also differs from country to country, and in some places there is more space under the lines than in Finland. This and differing legislation make, for example, construction and fruit tree cultivation possible under the lines,” says Fingrid’s Special Advisor Tiina Seppänen.

Since 2011, the European Union’s Life Elia project has been looking for best practices for use of the land under transmission lines, especially with consideration to natural diversity. Belgium and France are the project’s target countries, but ideas have been sought throughout Europe.

“Fingrid has collaborated with Life Elia. Some of the utilisation opportunities that have come up include berry and fruit orchards, sheep pasturing, ponds and wetlands, and environmental education. In particular, wetlands have been added in the target countries of Belgium and France as well as in Finland. We are often asked about establishing game wetlands, and this is permitted as long as electrical safety is taken into account.

Differences related to geography and populations

Fingrid has done studies on land use for transmission line areas as well as an international comparison on the topic. The latest study in 2015–2016 examined utilisation of transmission line areas in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Great Britain and the United States.

“Sweden and Norway focus on increasing the diversity of flora and fauna, while in Norway the mountains restrict land use. The United States wanted to find new opportunities for recreational use by people and in Great Britain transmission line areas were under cultivation or located in densely built-up cities. The Life Elia project also emphasises the diversity of forest nature in France and Belgium,” states Seppänen.

Sheep have been given “summer jobs” in Fingrid’s transmission line areas for several years. Sheep pasturing combines support for small-scale entrepreneurship and the versatile use of transmission line clearings.

Tips for landowners and town planners

Fingrid is currently developing operating models to increase utilisation of transmission line areas. The planning work takes private landowners and, for example, municipal land use planners into consideration.

Landowners sometimes oppose transmission lines because they feel that they cannot utilise the land under them. However, no-one benefits if the land is left unused.

“Fingrid is currently implementing a major investment programme and development possibilities to increase utilisation of transmission line areas have been identified in conjunction with transmission line projects. Among other things, the environmental impact assessments performed for transmission line projects have provided new impetus for promoting this matter. Electricity must be transmitted without disturbances and we are developing our operating models to enhance the approval level for transmission line projects,” says Development Manager Satu Vuorikoski.

Development ideas from Finland:

  • Save the pollinators: Transmission line areas are suitable for beekeeping.
  • Should I become a Christmas tree farmer: Christmas trees are low enough that farming can be permitted.
  • Thinking about game: Due to their good visibility, transmission line clearings are used for hunting and game towers can be built on the edges of them.
  • Cultivating for food or beauty: In addition to berries, many other useful or decorative plants are suitable for line clearings.
  • Sheep pasturing on my land: Sheep are an excellent choice for pasturing in line clearings.
  • Traditional meadow: Clearings can serve as an alternative to a meadow for many insects and plants.
  • Wetland: Wetlands maintain natural diversity.