Post-construction monitoring has been undertaken at wind farms in the UK for many years, and is now routinely requested for many multiple-turbine schemes. Despite this, relatively few UK monitoring studies have contributed significantly to our understanding of the ways in which birds and bats may be impacted by wind farm developments: for example with regard to the collision and displacement of birds, information still has to be pieced together using a wide range of sources.
One key reason that may help to explain this is that monitoring is typically considered at a late stage in the evolution of a project, when most issues and constraints have already been dealt with. It often represents the final hurdle before a planning application goes to committee and consequently there may be motivation to seek speedy resolution. Such last-minute monitoring schemes can be poorly thought out and may lack justification or clear objectives.
The lack of accessible, high quality monitoring information can also stem from an inappropriate focus on post-construction work, fear about the implications of the findings of monitoring on wind farm operation, and the tendency, therefore, to keep the results of monitoring studies out of the public domain.
As it seems inevitable, for the time being, that many monitoring studies will not reach a wide audience, and that evidence will continue to emerge slowly, it is important that those studies that do reach the public domain are of high quality. Currently, many studies fail to deliver any tangible benefit in terms of increasing our understanding of ecological effects. Monitoring change against a changing baseline (such as a naturally fluctuating population) or a low-resolution data set is unlikely to result in robust conclusions, and studies must have a clear and unambiguous purpose if they are to be of any use.
In this article we discuss when monitoring may be justified, and analyse the merits of a range of post-construction studies. Thought is then given to how future monitoring or research might be designed to help further our understanding and assess effects more robustly. However, the aim of this article is to stimulate discussion on what we do and why we do it, not to provide direction or guidance.
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If you would like to discuss this article then please contact Owain Gabb.
Swansea: 01792 363026