Climate change poses the single greatest long-term threat to birds and other wildlife, and the RSPB recognises the essential role of renewable energy in addressing this problem.
The UK Government has committed to obtaining 20% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. The Scottish Government has committed to an ambitious target of generating the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s electricity demand from renewables by 2020.
To meet these targets, the RSPB favours energy efficiency together with a broad mix of renewables, including solar, wind, biomass (for heat and power) and marine power; used in ways that minimise damage to the natural environment.
We support local solutions that enable individuals and communities to generate their own power close to their homes and businesses. But we will also need large-scale deployment of renewables to meet our ambitious climate and renewables targets.
We must act now
Switching to renewable energy now, rather than in ten or twenty years, is essential if we are to stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at safe levels. Wind power is the most advanced renewable technology, available at a large scale, over this time period. For this reason, the RSPB supports a significant growth in offshore and onshore wind power generation in the UK.
We believe that this growth can be achieved in harmony with, rather than at the expense of, the natural environment. However, poorly sited wind farms can have negative effects on birds, leading to potential conflict where proposals coincide with areas of high activity for species of conservation concern. We will therefore continue to require that wind farms are sited, designed and managed so that there are no significant adverse impacts on important bird populations or their habitats.
How do wind farms affect birds?
The available evidence suggests that wind farms can harm birds in three possible ways – disturbance, habitat loss (both direct and/or indirect) and collision.
Some poorly sited wind farms have caused major bird casualties, particularly at Tarifa and Navarra in Spain, and the Altamont Pass in California. At these sites, planners failed to consider adequately the likely impact of putting hundreds, or even thousands, of turbines in areas that are important for birds of prey.
Wind power has a significant role to play in the UK’s fight against climate change
Thorough environmental assessment is vital to ensure that all ecological impacts are fully identified prior to consent of any development. If wind farms are located away from major migration routes and important feeding, breeding and roosting areas of those bird species known or suspected to be at risk, it is likely that they will have minimal impacts.
We are involved in scrutinising hundreds of wind farm applications every year to determine their likely wildlife impacts, and we ultimately object to about 6% of those we engage with, because they threaten bird populations. Where developers are willing to adapt plans to reduce impacts to acceptable levels we withdraw our objections, in other cases we robustly oppose them.
However, there are gaps in knowledge and understanding of the impacts of wind energy, so the environmental impact of operational wind farms needs to be monitored - and policies and practices need to be adaptable, as we learn more about the impacts of wind farms on birds.
A strategic approach
We are calling for a more strategic and long-term planning approach to wind development than is currently being taken. With the right strategy and planning safeguards, and with co-operation between developers and conservationists, renewable targets can be achieved without significant detrimental effects on birds of conservation concern or their habitats.
Wind power has a significant role to play in the UK’s fight against climate change and we will work with Government and developers to ensure this outcome. But a closer examination of the effects of interactions among wind farms and between wind farms and other forms of development is still necessary.