Headland Archaeology Ltd. Unearthing a Niche Market: Archaeology and Wind Farms

Headland Archaeology Ltd. Unearthing a Niche Market: Archaeology and Wind Farms

19 June 2009

People have lived their lives on and around the island of Ireland for 10,000 years, and as a consequence few places remain where humans have not left their mark - this is Ireland's archaeology.

What does Archaeology have to do with the Renewable Energy Business? Archaeology has a great deal to do with the rapidly growing renewable energy industry. Our heritage is protected by the law, and whether a wind farm development is on land or at sea, developers must give due consideration to the historic environment. The impact of wind farms on archaeology can be wide ranging and profound.

Often fragile and irreplaceable archaeological remains can lie hidden beneath the surface in the most unpredictable places. This delicate resource is non-renewable and unique, and provides important evidence for the activities of our ancestors. Similarly, such developments can impact on the visual amenity of some of our most important upstanding archaeological sites; important views to or from monuments which have escaped obstruction for millennia may suddenly be obscured. Renewable energy sites tend to be located in areas of high archaeological significance, such as upland, coastal and marine environments. These environments were also often favoured by our ancestors due to their prominent positions in the landscape.

Headland Archaeology Ltd., one of the largest commercial archaeology groups in Europe, is currently experiencing an increased demand in services relating to Environmental Impact Statements and field archaeology required in advance of wind farm developments throughout Britain and Ireland. This is ‘bucking the trend' as all other sectors of the business have shown a decline in line with the construction industry during the recession.

Colm Moloney, Managing Director of Headland Archaeology Ireland says "Interestingly, the increase in demand for renewable energy is providing us with an opportunity to explore site types that were not commonly uncovered during the ‘Celtic Tiger' period. Whereas the archaeology in advance of infrastructural and residential development over the last few years tended to concentrate on the lowlands and valley floors, renewables provide us with an opportunity to explore these upland, coastal and marine environments, which may potentially lead us to new and exciting discoveries. Our expertise and our team of in-house specialists ensure that the process is efficient and creates minimal disruption and cost to developments.   "

Headland Archaeology Ltd. provides two main services to the renewable energy industry:

1. Consultancy - During the planning stages of a wind farm development the applicant is required to produce an Environmental Impact Statement on the effects of the proposed development on the receiving environment. Headland provides specialists to contribute a section on the impact of the development on the Cultural Heritage. This work involves searching through documentary sources and collating relevant information and non-intrusive fieldwork including a site inspection and survey and, in some cases, geophysical prospection.

2. Archaeological Monitoring and Excavation - Once planning permission has been granted and development commences, Headland provide a team of field archaeologists to work alongside the development team. Topsoil stripping is monitored and where archaeology is identified, it is recorded and excavated. It is vital that specialists are on hand to efficiently deal with issues quickly minimising cost and disruption.

Headland Archaeology Ltd. is currently involved in wind farm developments throughout Ireland and also in Scotland, England and Wales. Their experience in the sector is second to none, and they have completed work for the majority of the major renewable energy companies across Ireland and the UK; such developments are quickly becoming the prominent area of new business for the company.

Although traditionally located in highland zones, recently it has become more common to locate wind farms offshore. Sea levels and coastlines are constantly changing and what was once dry land may now be submerged. These submerged landscapes can contain evidence of our ancestors and the environment in which they lived. It is also essential to take account of more recent archaeology such as ship wrecks and military remains. Headland has responded to this development requirement by establishing a Maritime Archaeology Division.

Colm says "Wherever the archaeology is, it represents a substantial risk to development. The risk can vary from unexpected delay or in extreme cases to the complete abandonment of a development. The consultancy wing at Headland Archaeology has expanded to deal with this niche sector, minimising risk for developers and in turn providing the potential for the company's first global market."