Upland waders at risk from wind farms – latest research suggests urgent action is needed

Tuesday, 17 April, 2012

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A new study has highlighted the impact of wind turbines on the numbers of moorland breeding waders. Research by the RSPB and funded by Scottish Natural Heritage has found that wind farm construction and operation can lead to losses of up to 50% in breeding numbers of Snipe and Curlew. These results are in support of previous studies, which also found lower densities of Golden Plover in areas where wind farms were operational.

Published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, the study looked at onshore, upland wind farms in 18 locations in Scotland and England, and considered ten game bird, wader and songbird species, comparing bird numbers in the area before, during and after construction of the turbines.   The study did not focus on birds of prey or migrating wildfowl, which are known to collide with turbine blades.

Wind farms did not have a negative impact on all bird species studied. Some species such Red Grouse showed a temporary dip in numbers, which later recovered. Others showed little or, in the case of Stonechats, even increased during construction.  However, the drop in numbers of Curlews is of great concern because of the severe wider declines of this species across the British Isles.           

In order to deliver renewable energy whilst protecting wildlife, the RSPB has recommended that developers should avoid locating wind turbines in areas of high value for moorland specialist species. They also recommend that companies invest in research to look for ways to reduce the disturbance during wind farm construction at sites where these species occur.

It is hoped that this study will greatly help to inform how renewable energy that also protects nature should be delivered.  In particular, it shows a need to ensure that wind farm developments do not add further pressure to nationally declining bird populations. Armed with this knowledge, new guidelines can be given to wind farm developers to ensure that building wind turbines leads to a minimum of disruption to the local environment.