A new study has shown a significant reduction in the number of breeding birds following the construction of turbines at a wind farm in the north of Scotland.
RSPB Scotland scientists, funded by SSE, studied golden plovers at the Gordonbush wind farm in Sutherland for five years, before, during and after construction.
The study, due to be published in Ibis, reports that numbers of the plover, which are protected under the European Birds Directive, dropped by 80 per cent within the wind farm during the first two years of operation, with these declines being markedly greater than on areas surrounding the wind farm that were studied over the same period.
Lead researcher Dr Alex Sansom said: 'Golden plovers breed in open landscapes and it is likely that the presence of wind turbines in these areas leads to birds avoiding areas around the turbines. This study shows that such displacement may cause large declines in bird numbers within wind farms.
'It will be important to examine whether these effects are maintained over the longer term at this site, and we should also use these detailed studies to examine the effects of wind farms on other bird species.'
Aedan Smith, Head of Planning and Development for RSPB Scotland, said: 'We desperately need more renewable energy projects including wind farms to help tackle the causes of climate change, which is harming wildlife in Scotland and across the world. However, it is vital that wind farms, like any development, are sited to avoid harming our most important places for wildlife.
'Fortunately, the vast majority of wind farms pose no significant risk to our wildlife. This important study shows that bird numbers can be seriously affected by badly-sited wind farms in more ways than simply colliding with turbine blades, and highlights the importance of getting things right at the outset, so that impacts can be avoided.'
Kenna Chisholm, the conservation charity's Conservation Manager for North Scotland, said: 'RSPB Scotland objected to this project when it was first proposed, stating that it was not a suitable site for a wind farm. The new research suggests that the site is unlikely to be suitable for repowering when the current wind farm reaches the end of its life.'
The study is available for early view online ahead of its publication in Ibis: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ibi.12364/abstract