Over the last few months, RSPB Scotland has received specific reports of three raptor collisions with wind turbines, at two different wind farms in the Scottish Highlands.  Kate Bellew, Senior Conservation Planner, explains the potential conflicts between wind turbines and birds of prey.

Raptors and wind farm collisions

RSPB Scotland spend a significant amount of time working on wind energy projects.  This is because, while wind turbines are one of the most effective ways of generating the low carbon energy we need urgently to tackle global heating, wildlife can sometimes be harmed by poorly located turbines or other infrastructure.  We therefore use our expertise to try and help ensure wind turbines are sited in the best locations to benefit the climate and avoid harm to birds and other wildlife.

We know, for example, that large birds of prey can be particularly susceptible to collisions.  The island of Smøla off the north coast of Norway is one well-cited case.  Smøla has one of the densest populations of white-tailed eagles in Norway.  However, there is now also a large wind farm on the island and, tragically, an average of around 6 white-tailed eagles a year have been reported killed as a result of collisions with turbines.

In Scotland, birds of prey collisions with wind turbines remain an occasional but, fortunately, relatively rare event.  This is for the most part due to the careful siting of wind farms and turbines by most involved in the onshore wind industry.  This year, sadly, we’ve heard about three raptor fatalities - an osprey and white-tailed eagle at Stronelaig wind farm, south east of Fort Augustus, and an osprey at Strathy North wind farm, north Sutherland.  RSPB Scotland has just received the final post mortem and toxicology reports which confirm these fatalities are most likely to be the result of turbine collisions.  All casualties were found after the start of the breeding season, a time associated with increased flight activity. 

These deaths do not suggest anything exceptional at these windfarms and are consistent with the relatively small numbers of raptor deaths we have heard about at wind farms over recent years - but it is always distressing to hear about any deaths of such incredible birds.  In a previous blog we highlighted the range of risks raptors face in the modern landscapes of Scotland including collisions with trains, powerlines and persecution. Risks vary depending on the species but, overall, the risk of collision with operational wind farms is still low compared to other factors.

As the need to tackle the climate emergency becomes ever more urgent, it is inevitable that we will see many more wind turbines in Scotland and it will be vital that we continue to plan sites very carefully so that the risk of collisions is minimised, for example by avoiding protected sites for birds, locations close to nest sites or other areas where there is likely to be high flight activity.  It will be particularly important to take a precautionary approach whenever the potential impacts of the wind farm could be high and RSPB Scotland will continue to vigorously oppose the most damaging projects whilst supporting an overall increase in renewable energy.  We will also continue to push for further research to help improve understanding of how birds interact with wind turbines and to help reduce risks further in future.

Anonymous
  • Thanks for this post. The RSPB approach seems to me to be responsible. I hope that there are on all wind farms good reporting procedures for bird and bat casualties, and that offshore wind farms in particular are the subject of research. Local reporting in this case is likely to be ineffective