Study says wind farms not mass bird killers

Friday 13th Apr 2012 by theWeather Club

Image: Nigel Homer

A study carried out by UK bird charities has concluded that many bird species have not been adversely affected by the spread of wind farms. Scientists with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and RSPB found that building the turbines actually turns out to be more disruptive than operating them.

The study found that the nature and type of impact of a new wind farm varied enormously between species. For example red grouse numbers recovered fully after construction, while curlew numbers did not and skylarks numbers actually increased once the farm was up and running. This is the latest in a long line of studies on wind farms' interactions with birds, but this one differed in its scale. Ten species of birds were included, and 18 wind farms in upland areas of the UK were studied - most were monitored before construction began, during construction, and again afterwards.

“There's certainly no indication in the species we covered in this study that collision mortality is causing a big problem, but we need to bear in mind that it didn't cover the bigger raptors where we know collisions tend to happen," said Jeremy Wilson, head of science at RSPB Scotland.

The curlew is one of the birds that turned out to be affected by both construction and operation of a farm. “Where we are concerned is with two species, curlew and snipe,” Mr Wilson continued. “We saw the density drop during construction and not recover afterwards. The overall picture is perhaps more positive than some of the wilder headlines have suggested; but that doesn't suggest there's no problem.”

With wind power being seen as a vital aspect of reducing the UK dependence on fossil fuel in the move to sustainable energy resources, these results will be welcomed by the technology's advocates. The threat to avian life has always been one of the public’s genuine concerns about the spread of wind farms and this study will help to allay some of those fears.

The study is unlikely to change the charities' existing approach to onshore wind farms, which is generally to favour development because of the damage that climate change threatens to bring to wildlife worldwide, but to oppose it in areas where birds are likely to suffer.