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Wind Turbines Not as Hazardous to Birds as Previously Thought

We have written about wind turbines at great length on this blog and it is an issue which stubbornly refuses to go away! The need for renewable energy has seen a huge increase in the number of the turbines being erected around our shores. This has angered conservationists who believe that these structures are often sighted in the wrong areas – at least as far as birds are concerned.

But a new study suggests that the turbines are not as hazardous to birds as previously thought.

Collaborative Study

A comprehensive investigation has suggested that seabirds will change their flightpaths to avoid colliding with the turbines. The study was undertaken over a period of two years and was a collaboration between several stakeholders seeking to establish exactly how seabirds behave around wind farms.

The Offshore Renewables Joint Industry Programme (ORJIP) bird collision avoidance study combined human observation with a system that automatically recorded seabird movements at a working offshore wind farm. Radars were used to record data 24 hours a day. Only six collisions with the turbines were observed during the two years.

Paving the Way for Renewable Energy

The study could pave the way for further wind farms to be constructed around the UK’s shores. Evidence of their impact on seabirds was required as arguments against the wind farms have largely been based on anecdotal evidence and estimates. The windfarms currently generate 12% of this country’s total energy. Their impact on wildlife is a highly significant issue which cannot be ignored.

Video Evidence

During the study a number of videos were recorded at Vattenfall’s Thanet offshore wind farm off the Kent coast. 600,000 videos were analysed but only 12,131 featured evidence of avian activity and there were just six collisions. The footage is an important step forward in understanding bird behaviour around the turbines and will facilitate improvements in collision risk planning.

Expanding Offshore Wind Farms

The government wishes to rapidly expand the offshore wind sector and the data produced by the study will help to inform planning consents. It would be a win-win situation were it to prove possible to increase energy production whilst not severely impacting seabirds. We need energy but we need biodiversity too. New wind turbines are being developed and an enhanced knowledge of seabird behaviour will enable their designers to evolve more bird-friendly structures.

The study was commissioned by eleven leading offshore wind developers, The Crown Estate, The Crown Estate Scotland and Marine Scotland. It was supported by funding from the British government and was managed by the Carbon Trust.

But will conservationists be silenced by the new evidence? We think not. This is an issue which isn’t going away any time soon. As those on one side of the debate provide new insight, those on the other side inevitably produce their own data. One would presume that some collisions between birds and turbines are inevitable. We must establish how many collisions occur but also how many are acceptable.


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