Birds, Farms, and Wind Farms

Timlynn Babitsky | Bird kills,Issues: Strategies & Tactics | Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

by Timlynn Babitsky
Wind turbine impact on avian populations is a hot issue in the wind power arena. But a recent study covered in the UK’s Telegraph states that farmland birds aren’t bothered by wind turbines being built in the countryside. Is the turbine-avian issue over?

Researchers from Newcastle University conducted bird surveys of 33 different species on farmlands around two large wind farms in East Anglia to assess the impact of wind turbines on the distribution of birds normally found in the area.

Contrary to vocal resistance to wind turbines by conservationists, these researchers found that wind turbines had no effect on the distribution of most farmland birds. The largest and least maneuverable species were the only birds whose distribution was affected by the turbines.

Published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology, the study concludes that wind farms “can help meet tough sustainable energy targets without threatening biodiversity on European farmland.”

Yet out on the coast where sea eagles reside, the bird-turbine issue finds more dire conclusions.

Over the past 30 years, a concerted effort to re-establish the dwindling sea eagle population in Britain has been thwarted by the ill conceived placement of wind farms in the very places this raptor resides.

Historically, the sea eagle was widely found throughout the British Isles. But their 8 foot wing span limits their maneuverability in the air and makes them vulnerable to wind farms today. They do not have the ability to duck and weave in order to avoid moving turbine blades.

The warning signs for birds like the sea eagle that can’t adapt to sharing space with wind farms have been vividly demonstrated in Norway where the sea eagle still thrives.

Sea eagle deaths at a 68-turbine 20 square kilometer wind farm at Smøla, (a group of islands about 300 miles from Bergen) have been noted by local ornithologists but not publicly acknowledged by the Norwegian state-owned wind farm.

Overhead power lines to the mainland were one known cause of bird deaths. Those lines have since been replaced with ground cables. But there is no quick solution for birds crashing into rotor blades. And this is no surprise.

Long before the first turbine was constructed, environmentalists warned that the concentration of eagles at Smøla made it a totally inappropriate place for a wind farm. But those protests were ignored. As you might expect, the cost in eagles is priceless.

So what’s the lesson for community wind activists from these two studies on avian-turbine issues?

Once again, it’s do your homework! Make sure that wherever you plan to site your turbines does not share space with large birds of prey or other bird species that cannot easily maneuver. Listen carefully to environmental protestors to your project and then research fully your own location – well before you start construction.

Both the farmland bird and sea eagle protesters were vocally opposed to wind farms. But only one group had a valid complaint.

The bottom line on the avian-turbine issue: It is not that you build a wind farm…. it’s really about WHERE you put it in relationship to the local birds.

For the full story on farmland birds and wind farms click here.

For the full story on sea eagles and wind farms click here.

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