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Bird kill during wind farm construction

By Dave Armstrong - 13 Apr 2012 19:29:0 GMT
Bird kill during wind farm construction

Birds and wind turbines via Shutterstock

Birds (and bats) have long been known to bump into wind turbines. Mortality estimates have varied widely and now it's time to find out why. Also, we need to assess if flight route loss would lead to some loss of habitats and to discover how disturbance could displace animals. The Journal of Applied Ecology has now published Stephen Pearce-Higgins and his colleagues' paper. They work at RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology and Scottish National Heritage.

At 18 UK sites, the long-term study has produced results that show different effects on bird species previous to, during and after construction. The need for such long-term approaches has been obvious in order to test habituation by certain species and the detailed density changes in all.

Wind farms are political dynamite at the moment, as bigger and more numerous accumulations build in highland Scotland and the Thames estuary particularly. The "green lobby" are torn between the magnificent Scottish transition away from non-renewable energy sources and the environmental impact of the monster turbines. Elsewhere in the world, many countries are keen to employ such technology in areas where wildlife is not adapted to such disturbance.

Scottish curlew are among those most affected by windfarms. This individual was found in Strathdearn

Scottish curlew are among those most affected by windfarms. This individual was found in Strathdearn; Curlew image via Shutterstock

The birds themselves vary in their reactions. Ten species had data gathered, although unfortunately no raptor figures were available. Raptors are among those most affected locally by wind farm developments. Snipe (up to 48% decline), curlew (up to 40% decline) and red grouse are very much reduced in population during the construction phase, while the grouse seem to recover successfully afterwards in some cases.

Most species actually seem to be capable of recovery after a few years, and it would be interesting to see how they adapt to the inevitable mortality that takes place early in the wind farms' history.

Conversely, stonechat, meadow pipit and skylark actually increased in numbers during construction in some areas. Disturbance could have increased their feeding capability or the environment in those areas was more conducive to their ecology than in other areas.

The stonechat was among the few that increased in population during the construction phase of wind-farms

The stonechat was among the few that increased in population during the construction phase of wind-farms; Stonechat image via Shutterstock

As far as breeding is concerned, the birds were mainly affected during the construction phase. If disturbed, there is some evidence that they won't return to a site where breeding was unsuccessful.

The size and capacity of wind farms also seemed to affect the species studied very little. This bodes well for future larger turbines, but more careful studies will have to be carried out to ensure that the detrimental effects noted in this paper are not made worse.

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Topics: Birds