University plans £25 million green energy centre at Guardbridge paper mill site

(Originally issued by the University of St Andrews Press Office on Friday 20 December 2013)


Backed by a £10 million grant from the Scottish Funding Council which is supporting carbon reduction schemes across Scottish Higher Education, the university proposes to generate power through clean biomass at Guardbridge and pump hot water 4 miles underground to St Andrews to heat and cool its labs and residences.


Alongside recently approved plans for a six-turbine wind power development at Kenly to the east of St Andrews, the Guardbridge scheme will support a strategic drive by St Andrews to become the United Kingdom’s first carbon-neutral university.


The green energy produced on site and at Kenly will help the University protect jobs and ward off the effects of rapidly rising external energy prices. Although St Andrews has managed to cut its power consumption in recent years, energy prices have been continually hiked by the big power companies, representing a major threat to investment in front line teaching and research.


Now it’s hoped the plans for Guardbridge will boost efforts to revitalise the giant site and bring new investment in renewable technologies and new industry to Fife. The investment of at least £25 million in Guardbridge is expected to support new employment in the Fife village. Thebiomass facility will use only virgin roundwood, locally sourced from sustainable forests.


In addition to the energy centre, the University also hopes to establish a Knowledge Exchange Hub to provide “missing link” facilities which would allow research and discoveries made in university labs to be translated to working prototypes. The Centre will also offer affordable accommodation to local companies, with the aim of attracting businesses and skills linked to the renewables sector.


Subject to planning permission, the Guardbridge site will be renamed the Sustainable Power and Research Campus (SPARC), work will start onsite in 2014 with the Renewable Energy Centre complete and operational by December 2015.


St Andrews expects to apply to Fife Council for planning permission before the end of the year and will carry out open public consultation on its proposals, including public meetings and drop-in sessions in Guardbridge and St Andrews.


Since it acquired the vacant site in 2010, the University has met regularly with Guardbridge Community Council and local members of Fife Council.


University Quaestor and Factor Derek Watson said:


“It has taken us much longer than we originally anticipated to crystallise our thinking on a Renewable Energy Centre and we are grateful for the patience and encouragement shown to us by the local community over the last three years.


“We are also very grateful to the Scottish Funding Council for supporting our vision of carbon neutrality with a very significant investment of £10 million.


“Guardbridge represents a major strategic step for the University. We are committed to becoming carbon neutral and this large industrial site lends itself to the creation of a range of renewable energies which are vital to our efforts to remain one of Europe’s leading research institutions.


“There is also an ideal opportunity to establish a Knowledge Exchange Centre for spin-out, local companies seeking affordable accommodation and for prototype testing.


“We believe the diverse range of potential uses at Guardbridge has the capacity to re-establish this huge site as a key economic centre in Fife.


“We will consult closely with the community as our plans take shape.”

Holiday Waste

Graphic showing holiday waste from the USA - in the UK we are only slightly better at reducing holiday waste

Graphic showing holiday waste from the USA – in the UK we are only slightly better at reducing holiday waste

Biodiversity On The Mind

State of Nature

The latest comprehensive report of the status of wildlife in Britain

During my brief lunchbreak today I found myself totally engrossed in the State of Nature Reporta first of it’s kind document detailing the health of the UK’s wildlife populations (available from the RSPB).

It was a beautiful day and I should have been eating outside, away from my computer and enjoying the great outdoors! (that will be my goal for tomorrow)… As it turns out I found some useful insights from this remarkable document, helping remind me that biodiversity loss is not an easy concept to get your head around. The report’s foreword by Sir David Attenborough puts it this way,

“even the most casual of observers may have noticed that all is not well. They may have noticed the loss of butterflies from a favourite walk, the disappearance of sparrows from their garden, or the absence of the colourful wildflower meadows of their youth. To gain a true picture of the balance of our nature, we require a broad and objective assessment of the best available evidence.” (my emphasis)

No easy task. But this recent report does an impressive job at achieving such a broad and objective assessment by integrating species research over the past 50+ years on thousands of species of significance who live in the UK and overseas territories. Everything from the hazel doormouse to the harbour seal is covered in their analysis.

SoN doormouse

(State of Nature, pg 38)

Overall, the numbers and figures are not surprising. Indicator species (particularly of butterfly, moth and bird species) continue to decline significantly. Of total data covering 3,000+ species, 60% have declined and 31% have declined strongly over the past 50 years. I find these numbers difficult to truly grasp. That means 91% of all species highlighted in these studies are in some form of decline?

With a statistic so high, is there room for any good news?

Well, what I would add to Sir David Attenborough’s introductory words is that biodiversity requires science and wonder, reasoning and re-enchantment (something his has always excelled at sharing with audiences). The best surveys in the world will not stop biodiversity attrition alone.

This is partly why we have developed a new internship for students to work towards improving biodiversity right here in St Andrews. In partnership with our local Transition initiative – Transition University of St Andrews – we recruited five “biodiversity interns” to work with us this semester. While we too, like the researchers in this report, will be surveying and accounting for the local biodiversity among the University’s scattered landscape, we hope to also bring as muchring enthusiasm, excitement, and genuine compassion to this topic.

Our first step? To master new survey techniques that allow non-specialists (eg, students, staff and residents) to get outside and map the landscape around their halls of residence, staff departments or academic schools. Our online tool, the Biodiversity Index, guides us novices through the process and includes a concise report at the end that provides a benchmark score from which to improve upon. The report gives suggestions for improving our scores, such as to incorporate less intensive landscaping practises (leaving a wildlife meadow unmown during summer for example) or planting a community orchard in an otherwise unused area. All ideas will be considered which help increase habitat and vegetation diversity – indicators of species richness and the success of specific species of concern such as the common bee.

bio survey

Results from our first pilot survey of the Gateway building and surround area

 Our plan is to “divide and conquer” the University’s landscape in Spring 2014 by leading students and staff on multiple mini survey’s of their own, in places that mean something to them. We have high hopes that when people are given the chance to investigate, record, and reflect on their own local landscapes, more creative ideas will be generated with stronger chances for success. We hope you can join us by participating in these surveys as we work towards turning under-used landscapes into beautiful, resilient and healthy places to work and play.

This can only be done to the backdrop of global biodiversity concerns, such as impressively documented in the State of Nature report. I am eternally grateful to those researchers contributing to this latest report on the health of our living community. Let’s also remember that improving biodiversity begins with attention – where better to start then our own doorsteps?

Interested in joining the biodiversity interns on their mission? Signup for Spring 2014 survey updates by emailing