Safer Flying for Birds

16.07.09

A study commissioned by the RSPB has found that wind farms should not pose a risk to birds and other wildlife as long as the location is carefully researched and planned to ensure it will not affect the existing local wildlife.

This is a significant change in the stance that the charity has previously taken on wind farms before the results of the study were realised, which have now influenced the RSPB’s message that more onshore wind farms are essential to the UK meeting the 2020 climate change targets. The charity has also called for the planning process to be reformed to ease the development of renewable energy projects, specifically wind-farms. Despite having ideal weather conditions to maximise the benefits of wind power, the UK is only thirteenth in a European league table of wind power – lagging behind small countries such as Belgium.

The report proposes that bird-sensitive areas should be identified and marked as unsuitable for wind-farm development  - reducing time and money spent on researching and choosing sites for each individual project, and that community support should be encouraged by guaranteeing incentives such as competitive energy tariffs, financial investment in local wildlife conservation schemes, or share opportunities.

RPS is managing the remote sensing ornithological monitoring for three offshore wind farm projects, with a team of scientists, using Bird Detection Radar (BDR) technology.  The study, for Centrica Renewable Energy Ltd (CREL), is being conducted for consented offshore wind-farms at Lynn: off the Norfolk coast, Inner Dowsing: offshore from Skegness, and off the Lincolnshire coast.

Early monitoring by the team of experts from RPS and Central Science Laboratories recorded large numbers of pink-footed geese skeins on migration offshore to a distance of 10km. As a result, the subsequent FEPA licenses issued for the projects included a condition requiring CREL to undertake ornithological monitoring during the construction and post-construction phases, specifically focusing on pink-footed geese migration behaviour.

An initial construction phase monitoring programme was carried out in Autumn 2007, with the post-construction survey in Autumn 2008. The data from these two surveys has been presented to CREL and key regulatory authorities for comment and review.  Early data indicates that pink-footed geese migrating through the site exhibit discrete avoidance reactions to the operational wind turbines, and a further survey is scheduled for Autumn 2009 to continue building on this existing data set.

It is not just wind turbines that could pose a risk to birds if sited in a bird-sensitive area. RPS has been commissioned by the MoD to undertake a research project to attempt to isolate the potential disturbing effects of low-flying aircraft on the conservation status of selected bird species in The Wash. At over 62,200ha, The Wash (Norfolk/Lincolnshire coast) Special Protection Area is the largest estuarine system in the UK and one of the most important British ornithological sites due to it’s recognised international significance for water-birds.

The Wash supports two MoD Training Estate (DTE) Air Weapons Ranges: RAF Wainfleet and RAF Holbeach.  RPS is currently carrying out an initial desk study covering the ornithological interests of The Wash and the use of the Ranges, to investigate whether there is any correlation between trends in bird numbers and military activities on the Ranges – specifically that of low-flying aircraft.

The results of the desk study will be considered by the MoD later this year and, if relevant, will inform the design of a monitoring programme which will engage RPS ornithologists in winter fieldwork around the weapon ranges during target practise by combat fixed wing jet aircraft and attack helicopters to assess whether there is evidence for significant disturbance of birds in and around the sites, using the distribution and behaviour of over-wintering shore birds as evidence.

RPS provides a range of renewable energy and ecology expertise including environmental and ecological impact assessments, ecological surveys and evaluation, ecology management planning, habitats directive assessments, environmental due diligence, and wind-farm planning.