Wind turbines have little impact on bird populations

Wind energy developers have welcomed findings from a major new study which for the first time confirms that wind turbines do not lead to a long term decline in bird populations, despite sometimes having a short term impact during construction.

The study published in the April edition of Journal of Applied Ecology has been hailed as the first of its kind to study bird populations during both the construction and operation phases of new wind farms.

Researchers from the British Trust for Ornithology and RSPB monitored 10 bird species at 18 wind farm sites in the UK, comparing breeding bird densities and population trends between years before, during, and after wind farm construction.

They found red grouse, snipe, and curlew populations all declined during construction. The red grouse populations then recovered after construction, although snipe and curlew densities did not bounce back.

However, the researchers found little evidence of bird populations continuing to decline once construction had ended, suggesting that wind farm construction can have greater impacts upon birds than wind farm operation.

The study was hailed as a major boost for wind farm developers, which have consistently sought to downplay concerns that large numbers of birds will be killed crashing into turbines.

Wildlife organisations such as RSPB and WWF say they strongly support the development of wind farms but only in the right locations. RSPB recently revealed it objected to just eight per cent of the 2,100 wind farm cases which it was involved in the UK between 2001 and 2010.

"Wind farm developers firmly believe that taking every possible step to protect birds is extremely important," said RenewableUK spokesman Rob Norris.

"That’s why they carry out stringent Environmental Impact Assessments to examine the effects a wind farm 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, said the evidence showed birds and wind farms can coexist with little long term impact on many bird populations.

"We hope this will go a long way in addressing inflammatory statements made by anti-wind farm campaigners," he said. "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 on 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."