Wind energy and wildlife

Wind energy and wildlife

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Whilst onshore wind energy undoubtedly brings huge benefit to the UK’s energy, new proposals still have to be weighted against local issues, including impacts on ecology and biodiversity. Research effort over the past 20 years on the impact of wind turbines on airborne wildlife has largely concentrated on bird fatalities.

Whilst onshore wind energy undoubtedly brings huge benefit to the UK’s energy, new proposals still have to be weighted against local issues, including impacts on ecology and biodiversity.

Research effort over the past 20 years on the impact of wind turbines on airborne wildlife has largely concentrated on bird fatalities.

Less is known about their effect on bats, all species of which are protected under European and UK law. However, over 1,500 bat fatalities were recorded in Europe in 2009(1), with species  resident in the UK being affected.  This is something of a mystery, since bats will normally avoid moving objects, using their echolocation to navigate. A number of theories have been suggested, including ‘barotrauma’ caused by the dramatic changes in air pressure around moving blade edges. Bats may be attracted to insects  that get caught in vortices close to the structures. It has also been suggested that bats may not echolocate on familiar journeys(2). More research is needed in this so that ecologists can recommend suitable mitigation that would aim to divert bats away from the site.

The GP Wind Good Practice Guide and Toolkit site http://www.project-gpwind.eu/ isprovides a  good start to mitigation, though it lacks direct guidance on, for example, survey effort for various species groups, or procedures and processes involved in the assessment of impacts. The links and the online library section of the Toolkit also include some useful information for ecologists and the industry, such as case studies and scientific papers, and guidance from Scottish Natural Heritage and other bodies. There is information on offsetting, compensation, mitigation and assessment of cumulative impacts.

In the UK, wind farms are subject to an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA), which  considers amongst other things impacts on species that may be significantly affected by such structures, such as migratory birds, and bats.

As with all developments, the appropriate species and habitat surveys must be carried out to accepted good practice standards, or proposals can be rejected at the planning stage with consequent effects on budgets and timescales. A robust EcIA will form part of a much broader  Environmental Impact Assessment for larger proposals.

It is not only air-borne species that are affected; often the remote sites chosen for development are home to rich reptile, amphibian and invertebrate assemblages, not to mention some of our less common plants. Protected habitats may also be directly affected, for example peat bogs in upland areas.  A number of the species affected by wind farm development are European Protected Species, which require special conservation measures.

The Ecology Consultancy has many years of experience advising companies in civil engineering and the construction industry on the best way of working with wildlife on site. Our project experience includes proposals for energy companies including RWE npower renewables, Renerco, Arcus Renewables, Warwick Energy, Ecotricity and Stamford Renewables.

  1. Jones G, Cooper-Bohannon R, Barlow K, Parsons K. Scoping and method development report – Determining the potential ecological impact of wind turbines on bat populations in Britain. University of Bristol & the Bat Conservation Trust. DEFRA May 2009.
  2. Common concerns about wind power. Centre for Sustainable Energy, May 2011

SSIP Link-up Constructionline Builders Profile