Windfarm Bird Impacts Overestimated

New research published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology suggests the impact of wind farms on farmland birds is less serious than previously thought.

Dr Mark Whittingham and co-authors focused their study on farmland birds overwintering in East Anglia, in early 2007. The birds were allocated to functional groups (that is, grouped alongside birds with similar ecological requirements and taxonomic characteristics).

The researchers found no effect of proximity to wind turbines on grain-eating birds, corvids (crows), gamebirds and the skylark. However, the researchers found pheasants, which are widespread across Britain, to be more abundant further away from the wind turbines. Importantly, among the 33 bird species recorded (of which five are red-listed), wind farms were not found to be a threat.

In order to meet growing energy demands and combat climate change, wind farms are one of a suite of potential alternative energy options that could contribute to a shift from our present fossil-fuel dependency. The European Commission has set a target of creating 20% of EU Energy from renewable sources by 2020, and farmland, as the most abundant land cover in Europe is the most likely place to put them. Future EU policy calling for more wind farms on farmland should not be incompatible with existing EU policy (Agri-Environment Schemes) to increase biodiversity on farmland.

Dr. Whittingham said: “This is the first evidence suggesting that the present and future location of large numbers of wind turbines on European farmland is unlikely to have detrimental effects on farmland birds. This should be welcome news for nature conservationists, wind energy companies and policy makers.”

This article received extensive coverage in the media including:

The Today Show, Radio 4
The Telegraph

Reference: Claire L Devereux, Matthew J H Denny and Mark J Whittingham. Minimal effects of wind turbines on the distribution of wintering farmland birds. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2008; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2008.01560.x