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The conflict between birds of prey and wind farms isn't abating

New research compiled and confirmed by NatureScot (previous Scottish Natural Heritage) has shown that wind turbines in Scotland are causing significant harm to their bird of prey populations.

Since 2019, 33 raptors including ospreys, golden eagles and peregrine falcons, have been recorded as being killed as a result of collisions with onshore wind turbines. This could of course be just the thin end of the wedge; who knows how many others may have died but their numbers not recorded. NatureScot accept that point, confirming that the figures are not a ‘comprehensive record of bird collisions with wind turbines’.

In 2020, two hen harriers were recorded as dying from wind-farm collisions. 2019 was one of the worst years for wind-farm bird collisions with 12 deaths overall, including five osprey and one white-tailed sea eagle, found dead on wind-farm sites in the Highlands, Sutherland and Orkney.

So what is to be done about it? Despite these figures, NatureScot still advise that ‘well-sited’ wind farms have limited effects on birds. But how many of our on-shore wind farms – or indeed proposed ones – are ‘well-sited’ from a bird-life perspective.

Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain has been pushing for details of the fatalities, and is convener of the Scottish Parliament’s rural affairs and connectivity committee.

“These new figures are alarming and show the real dangers wind farms present to our endangered and iconic bird of prey species,” he said. “It’s very likely these figures are just the tip of the iceberg, though, as they don’t cover bird collisions with offshore wind farm sites.

“We need to protect our raptors from further population decline and NatureScot has a duty to see what more action it can take to minimise avoidable raptor deaths at wind farm sites across Scotland.”

He is concerned that the numbers killed by wind farms could be comparable to the figures detailed in the RSPB bird crime report (which covers only raptors, not any other bird crimes, of which there are money).

However the RSPB, whose job is surely to protect all birdlife, still supports onshore wind, warning that ‘climate change poses the single greatest long-term threat to birds and other wildlife’. They don’t seem to mind about the many birds (and bats) massacred by wind turbines each year.

In Moffat, plans were submitted to built 75 wind turbines, in the area where the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project is working to re-established the eagle population. After an objection from the RSPB (hurrah!) this number was reduced…. To 60. Four of the turbines will also have their tip heights reduced.

Perhaps we are wrong and this is a huge cause for celebration. 15 turbines fewer; but still 60 remaining, exactly where golden eagles are being sent to live. Lambs to the slaughter, more like.

In 2006 a wind farm in Norway killed nine Sea Eagles in less than a year at one of their key breeding sights, the island of Smøla. When this happened, the RSPB were quoted as saying that governments should be more cautious in deciding where to build wind farms. “Smoela is demonstrating the damage that can be caused by a wind farm in the wrong location,” one of their biologists was quoted as saying.

It's not just Norway and Scotland. In Australia, wedge-tailed eagles are the ones suffering; in South Africa, Verreaux’s eagles, and in California it’s the golden eagles again who come into conflict with wind turbines. Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California has the highest rate of bird kills of any wind farm in the world; each year 880 to 1,300 birds of prey are killed there: golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, burrowing owls, kestrels, falcons, vultures, and other owl species.

Remember the Lammergeir or bearded vulture who visited the Peak District moors in 2020? Surprise surprise, organisations and individuals used the bird's visit to try and whip up an anti-shooting media frenzy with stories of how the bird 'is not safe on land managed for shooting interests’. Sadly, a Lammergeir from Spain visited the Netherlands in 2021 – where they are only sighted around 3 times a year – and died after colliding with a turbine there.

Renewable energy is all well and good; yes, it may well be the solution to our climate crisis. But does the world’s bird of prey populations need to suffer in order for us to ‘save’ the planet. The RSPB want to push for green energy; that’s fine. So what of the ‘well-placed’ wind farms? The one just a few miles from where vast amounts of time, effort and money is being invested to desperately try and revive a golden eagle population…?


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