Displacement of birds at operational wind farms: recent papers

Displacement of birds at operational wind farms: recent papers

Summary: A recent paper in the scientific journal Bird Study summarising the operational effects of the Beinn Tharsuinn wind farm (a Scottish Power scheme) on moorland breeding birds, draws into question the perceived wisdom that densities of golden plover are reduced in close proximity to wind turbines.  A further paper, by Natural Research, on the distribution of curlew around operational wind farms, suggests minimal effects on the distribution and population density of that species, formerly considered to be sensitive to displacement at distances of up to 800m from wind farms.

We have provided summaries of both the Beinn Tharsuinn study, and the 2009 paper on ‘The distribution of breeding birds around upland wind farms’ (which established much of the perceived wisdom on wind farm displacement) on the links below. The 2009 paper by Pearce-Higgins et al was the first study to attempt to quantify displacement distances around operational wind farms, and has had considerable repercussions for numerous upland wind farm schemes.

Viewpoint: In the technical links below we provide our experience of the implications of the 2009 paper for upland wind farm developments.  In short, the degree of displacement of breeding waders that was suggested by the paper has led to many consultees requesting substantial habitat management (requiring legal agreement and sometimes land acquisition) as compensation, if planning applications are to be approved.  Due to the lack of other peer reviewed studies it has been difficult for the industry to assess how reasonable these requests are.  The Beinn Tharsuinn study is the first public domain monitoring exercise to cast significant doubt on the conclusions of the 2009 paper.  It concludes that golden plover numbers and densities at the site are primarily determined by food availability.  In combination with other emerging studies, this suggests that investing heavily in land management initiatives to benefit wader populations might be misguided as a means of mitigation or compensation, although such investment may still be appropriate as a means of enhancement for waders.  A summary of the Natural Research paper on curlew will follow soon.

Technical documents:

Pearce-Higgins, J.,  Stephen, L.,  Langston, R., Bainbridge, I., and Bullman, R. (2009) The distribution of breeding birds around upland wind Farms Journal of Applied Ecology, 46, 1323–1331

Douglas, D,. Bellamy, P,.  & Pearce‐Higgins, J. (2011) Changes in the abundance and distribution of upland breeding birds at an operational wind farm Bird Study 58, Issue 1, 2011


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