There’s no denying that renewable energy development will always have some level of impact on the natural world. But the key to a sustainable future is identifying how to generate the energy we need with the least impact so that we can avoid contributing to the biodiversity crisis while trying to resolve the climate crisis.

There is, thankfully, a global consensus that we must move away from fossil fuels to significantly reduce our emissions of harmful greenhouse gases. This will reduce the impacts of climate change on our already-struggling wildlife. And now, thanks to a collaborative project between NGOs and academia* we better understand how this shift to renewable energy could put wildlife at risk around the world. In particular, we have a global picture of the bird and bat species that are the most vulnerable to collision with onshore wind turbines, and where these species tend to be concentrated. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), who led this work, have summarised the findings of the new report, and you can find the paper here. Some key findings include:

-        migratory birds face a greater risk of collision that sedentary ones,

-        species of bat which dispersed further, on average, had a higher risk of collision than those that did not

-        thirty one of the fifty five birds considered ‘threatened’ by wind farms were birds of prey,

-        collision rates were predicted to be higher for bats than for birds.

By identifying areas where risks are greater for birds and bats, this new research can help to inform strategic national and regional consideration of where wind energy could play a critical role in the transition to a renewable energy future, without having adverse impacts on important populations of species.

 Photo credit: Nick Upton (rspb-images.co.uk)

This is only one part of the puzzle though. Future research is still needed, which covers a wider range of species, marine as well as terrestrial environments, and other energy generation options. Most importantly, research on this global scale will never remove the need for project-specific impact assessments that consider both the individual and cumulative/in-combination impacts of developments.

With the publication of our 2050 Energy Vision last year, the RSPB has been renewing its call for strategic spatial planning by the governments of the UK to help to minimise impacts on wildlife. We explain more about how to map sensible renewables sites for the future here. Ensuring planning and subsidy regimes then support a roll-out of renewable energy in the right locations and help to reduce future conflict, speed up the energy transition and protect our precious wildlife.

But the UK acting on its own will not be enough. Wildlife does not respect political boundaries so it will need governments across the world to recognise the importance of this spatial approach.

We need renewable energy, and we need to protect and nurture healthy ecosystems. At the RSPB we know that there is space for energy and wildlife to thrive together: what we will need to get this energy transition right is careful planning!

 

* This study was a collaboration between BTO, RSPB, IUCN, BirdLife International, Conservation Science Group Cambridge, Imperial College London, University of Stellenbosch, and JNCC and funded by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.

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