Last week a new report was published, here, which revealed that the impact of wind farms on bird populations may have been overstated. The study, published in the April edition of the Journal of Applied Ecology, was the first of its kind in that it monitored bird populations over three different periods; before during and after wind farm construction.
The study was carried out by a team of four naturalists and ornithologists from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Scottish Natural Heritage, and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). 10 bird species were monitored across 18 different wind farm sites. The density of breeding birds and more general population trends were observed. The findings of the study were somewhat surprising as they indicated that the impact of an operational wind farm on bird populations was fairly minimal. Rather it was during the construction process that bird population levels were affected.
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s UK conservation director commented: “It shows that there can be a serious species-level impacts in the construction phase, so construction in the right place is absolutely key. But what it hasn’t shown is that wind farms are ‘bird blenders’. There is no impact from the turning of the blades.”
James Pearce-Higgins, lead author of the study and principal ecologist with the BTO: stated: “It was a bit of a surprise that the impact on wind farms seemed to be happening during construction rather than operation .
“It means we should look at ways in which these negative impacts can be minimised. The next step will be to find out whether those steps are effective.”
It is interesting to note that there were huge variations in how different species of bird were impacted by wind farms.
For example, red grouse, snipe, and curlew population levels all fell during construction. Red Grouse levels did, however, recover after construction was completed and the wind farms became operational. Other species such as the meadow pipit, golden plover, wheater, whinchat, dunlin, and the lapwing showed “either no change or less certain reactions’ to the construction and operation of wind farms. Some species, such as the skylark and stonechat, even “flourished” during construction. The varied impact of wind farm construction and operation on different species belies as the media myth that wind turbines are having a hugely negative impact on bird population levels. Other studies have produced similar results such as that carried out on a Dutch offshore wind farm which revealed that offshore wind can help to actually increase populations.
Rob Norris, spokesman for RenewableUK released the following statement welcoming the study’s findings: “Wind farm developers firmly believe that taking every possible step to protect birds is extremely important.
“That’s why they carry out stringent Environmental Impact Assessments to examine the effects a wind turbine will have on wildlife.
“This new study shows that once wind farms are up and running, they don’t have any significant impact on the local bird population. So this report should dispel the longstanding myth about wind turbines damaging birds, and as such it’s very welcome.”
Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables was equally welcoming:
“We hope this will go a long way in addressing inflammatory statements made by anti-wind farm campaigners. Onshore wind farm developers in Scotland have to complete rigorous environmental impact assessments which may include bird surveys which are then taken into consideration by the local planning authority.
“The wind industry will continue to work closely with statutory consultees including Scottish Natural Heritage to minimise the impact of habitats of animals and birds as we work to ensure the right balance between developing renewable energy projects and protecting our natural environment is met.”
The results of this study demonstrate that the impact of wind turbines on bird population levels has been overstated; particularly when the rigorous environmental assessments required for such developments is taken into account.