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Ecologists allay fears for farmland birds from wind turbines

Visit  British Ecological Society website

1 October 2008

Wind farms pose less of a threat to farmland birds than previously feared, new BBSRC-funded research has found. The study, published this week in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology, helps resolve a potentially major environmental conflict: how to meet renewable energy targets at the same time as reversing dramatic declines in biodiversity on European farmland.

Dr Mark Whittingham and colleagues from Newcastle University conducted bird surveys on arable farmland around two wind farms in the East Anglian fens. They recorded almost 3,000 birds from 23 different species, including five red-listed species of high conservation concern – the yellowhammer, the Eurasian tree sparrow, the corn bunting, Eurasian skylark and the common reed bunting. They found the wind turbines had no effect on the distribution of seed-eating birds, corvids (the crow family), gamebirds and Eurasian skylarks. Common pheasants – the largest and least manoeuvrable species – were the only birds whose distribution was affected by the turbines.

According to Whittingham: "This is the first evidence suggesting that the present and future location of large numbers of wind turbines on European farmland is unlikely to have detrimental effects on farmland birds. This should be welcome news for nature conservationists, wind energy companies and policy makers. With large numbers of wind farms needing to be built on lowland areas, the cumulative impacts on farmland bird species has the potential to be a significant constraint to development."

The results are important because the European Commission has set a target of generating 20% of EU energy from renewable sources by 2020. As agriculture is the major land use in the EU, more wind turbines will need to be built on farmland. At the same time, the EU is spending billions of Euros on agri-environment schemes, whose major goal is to boost biodiversity on farmland. If wind turbines harm farmland birds, the two environmental policies would be difficult to reconcile.

Previous studies by other researchers have concentrated on the impact of wind turbines on waterbirds and birds of prey. "Much terrestrial research into the effects of wind turbines on birds has focused on geese, waders and raptors, whose populations are highest in upland and coastal areas. There is increasing conservation concern about the impact of wind farms on these species in these areas, so applications to build new turbines are increasingly focusing on other sites, especially lowland farmland in central and eastern England," says Whittingham.

As the study was conducted during the winter, further studies are needed on the impact of wind turbines on farmland birds during the breeding season.

Claire L Devereux, Matthew J H Denny and Mark J Whittingham (2008). Minimal effects of wind turbines on the distribution of wintering farmland birds. Journal of Applied Ecology, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2008.01560.x, is published online on 1 October 2008.

ENDS

Notes to editors

For further information, please contact Dr Mark Whittingham, Newcastle University (details below).

Copies of the paper are available from Becky Allen, British Ecological Society Press Officer (details below).

The study was funded by Baker Shepherd Gillespie Ecological Consultants and UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The Journal of Applied Ecology is published by Wiley-Blackwell for the British Ecological Society. Contents lists are available at http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/jpe

About The British Ecological Society

The British Ecological Society is a learned society, a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. Established in 1913 by academics to promote and foster the study of ecology in its widest sense, the Society has 4,000 members in the UK and abroad. Further information is available at www.britishecologicalsociety.org.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

External contact

Dr Mark Whittingham, Newcastle University

tel: +44 (0)191 222 6599, mob: +44 (0)7812 570968 (out of hours only)

Becky Allen, British Ecological Society Press Officer

tel: +44 (0)1223 570016, mob: + 44 (0)7949 804317

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382