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Most farmland birds not disturbed by wind turbines

A study by UK researchers published in the Journal of Applied Ecology has found that the presence of wind turbines does not negatively affect the habits of farmland birds, with the exception of common pheasants. The results are good news for renewable energy stakeholders as we...

A study by UK researchers published in the Journal of Applied Ecology has found that the presence of wind turbines does not negatively affect the habits of farmland birds, with the exception of common pheasants. The results are good news for renewable energy stakeholders as well as supporters of conservation efforts to increase biodiversity on farmland. Growth in the wind market is key to achieving the European Commission's target of generating 20% of EU energy from renewable sources by 2020, and the Global Wind Energy Council forecasts 155% growth in installed capacity globally by 2012. However, studies have found that wind turbines in coastal and upland areas threaten larger, less agile birds like ducks, geese and raptors. This has raised considerable conservation concerns. Locating wind turbines on farmland has been seen as an attractive alternative to placing them in coastal or upland areas, especially considering that most land in the EU is used for agriculture. On the other hand, decreasing biodiversity on farmland is the focus of several EU agri-environment schemes. This study was the first to address the pivotal question of whether wind turbines harm farmland birds. Dr Mark Whittingham of Newcastle University, UK and colleagues tested 'whether wind turbines affect the distribution of lowland farmland birds during the winter, a critical time in the annual cycle'. They wanted to see whether the wind turbines disturbed the birds, and whether birds avoided the giant structures. Potential sources of disturbance include noise, which can interrupt birds' ability to communicate vocally and lower the quality of the habitat. They reasoned that birds might also steer clear of turbines to avoid collision, to avoid people, or to avoid 'tall structures' as part of a general preference for open spaces. The survey of almost 3,000 birds from 33 different species was conducted on cultivated farmland around 2 wind farms in East Anglia, UK. Of the 33 species, 5 were 'red-listed' (the yellowhammer, the Eurasian tree sparrow, the corn bunting, the Eurasian skylark and the common reed bunting). The distribution of seed-eating birds, corvids (the crow family), gamebirds and Eurasian skylarks was not affected by the wind turbines. In contrast, common pheasants, which are large and comparatively ungainly birds, tended to keep their distance. Interestingly, some corvids and skylarks were observed to move closer to the turbines, though the reason for this was unclear. According to Dr Whittingham, the study provides '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'. The study cautions that 'further studies of the effects of wind turbines on farmland birds, particularly during the breeding season' need to be carried out. Nevertheless, the current findings will be welcomed by nature conservationists, wind energy companies and policy makers alike.

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