As more and more wind farms are installed across the planet in response to governmental aims to curb carbon emissions, our lack of knowledge concerning the impact wind farms have on the surrounding wildlife — particularly birds — needs to be improved. A new study has attempted to partially remedy this by studying wind farms prior to and during construction, as well as after construction.
The study was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology’s Editor’s Choice and monitored a range of upland bird species in the UK at 18 wind farm sites. The study compared breeding bird densities and population trends between years before, during, and after wind farm construction. Additionally, the researchers contrasted their findings with paired reference sites acting as controls.
As a result, their findings found that the effect of wind farms on bird densities varies considerably among species.
To quote from the Editor’s Choice:
Of the 10 species they analyse data for, the densities of snipe Gallinago gallinago (L.), curlew Numenius arquata (L.) and red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus (Lath.), are lower during construction compared to pre-construction. While the densities of the latter appeared to recover during the first years of wind farm operation, the densities of both snipe and curlew remained depressed.
Further support for the specific effect of wind farm construction as opposed to operation comes from two additional findings. First, curlew densities were also significantly lower during construction on wind farm sites, when compared to densities on paired control sites. Second, in spite of adverse effects on densities of some species during wind farm construction, the authors find little evidence for longer-term population declines in the years thereafter.
In other words, according to their findings, the construction of the wind farm was more deleterious to the habitat of some species than the actual operation of the wind farm was.
The researchers stress that this study represents, fundamentally, a high variability between species, and “that regulatory authorities and developers should particularly consider the likely impacts of wind farms on large waders.”
Additionally, “greater weight should be given to the effects of construction on wildlife in impact assessments than at present. Mitigation measures during construction, including restricting construction activity to non-breeding periods, should be considered and tested as a means to reduce these negative effects.”
The researchers also make it clear that this study simply highlights the need for more studies of a similar nature, specifically those that look at a variety of locations combined with control sites.
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