Climate change is the biggest long-term global threat to wildlife.
In some parts of the world, species are already going extinct because of climate change, some British wildlife is also suffering. For example, many breeding waders of wet grassland have been hit by successive spring floods and some seabird colonies have failed to breed successfully because of a lack of their favourite sand eel food, which may be due to warming sea temperatures. This is why we support renewable energy developments in principle, including wind farms.
However, we always look at every case on its own merits. We do object if important wildlife and habitats would be harmed (for examples, see some of the other wind energy cases on these web pages). Our position on any case is informed by sound science and focuses on the nature conservation issues.
Poorly designed and sited wind farms can pose a threat to birds from collisions, by disturbance and by habitat destruction. In this case, the wind farm would be on arable farmland and habitat loss here will have little impact on bird populations.
We have been discussing this proposal with the Environment Agency and Partnerships for Renewables (PfR) since 2010.
PfR met all our requests in terms of information collected about birds. This included breeding and wintering bird surveys and surveys of bird flight movements in the area by day and night. They also studied the possible effects of the turbines on the future nature conservation value of RSPB Beckingham Marshes – ie on the bird populations which we hope and predict will build up in years to come as the still-new habitats mature and develop. This was an unusual step - most Environmental Impact Assessments only consider the current state of the environment.
PfR also did a collision risk analysis based on many hours of local bird surveys, taking into account the collective experience from studies of many wind farms in the UK and abroad. We agree with the conclusions of this work, which suggested the numbers of birds killed by collision would be very low and would not be a significant threat to bird populations.
We cannot be sure the proposed wind farm will disturb wetland birds like curlews and snipe, or wintering wildfowl, taking into account the separation distance between the proposed wind farm and the habitats these birds favour in the area. However, a small risk remains that without mitigation, there will be an impact.
This uncertainty stems partly from the fact the research on impacts of wind farms on breeding waders was done in wide open upland environments, not in a lowland floodplain criss-crossed by roads, hedges and pylons and dotted with other huge man-made structures like power stations. Therefore, we asked PfR to pay for some habitat improvements locally to mitigate the remaining risk that there will be a disturbance effect on the reserve.
Why we chose not to object
In the light of the survey results, and subject to the proposed mitigation measures, we do not believe the proposed wind farm will impact significantly on local wildlife or the conservation interest of RSPB Beckingham Marshes, now or in the future. We therefore decided not to object in principle, subject to a number of conditions. These include:
- no northward movement of the turbine closest to the reserve boundary
- a copy of the Bird Monitoring Plan and monitoring outcomes to be shared with the RSPB
- a bat monitoring programme to be put in place
- assurance that the applicant will fund the proposed habitat enhancement measures to the existing reserve
- scope to increase mitigation and compensation delivery if warranted by the monitoring reports - no construction to be carried out during the breeding season or before an approved Construction Drainage Plan and a Construction Environmental Management Plan are in place.
We fully appreciate some local people probably have concerns about the effects of the wind farm on their properties and the local landscape. But as a nature conservation organisation, the RSPB has no expertise on these subjects and therefore did not comment on them. These issues and many others will be considered (if relevant) by the planning authority before it makes its decision.