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Eagle kills stir windfarm row

[Monday 03 July 2006]

THE ongoing row over the future building of hundreds of windfarms intensifies today (Monday, July 3) with the issue of a damning report about the slaughter of rare eagles by wind turbines on islands off the Norwegian coast.

wind farm
Wind turbines - bird killers?

Although the majority of conservation groups is in favour of building more windfarms to provide "green" electricity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - Britain's biggest environmental pressure group - has been appalled by the mass killing of white-tailed eagles on the island chain of Smøla, once one of Europe's most important breeding sites for this rare bird of prey.

In Britain, where the windfarm controversy has been underway for the past ten years, lobbyists for the heavily-subsidised wind power industry has always dismissed suggestions that turbines are a threat to bird life. But a controversial report issued today by the RSPB shatters that argument.

Only one white-tailed eagle is expected to fledge from the wind farm site on the bird's former stronghold of Smøla. Turbine blades have killed nine of the birds in the last ten months, including all three chicks that fledged last year.

The number of young has crashed from at least ten each year before the wind farm was built, with numbers outside the wind farm falling as well - there are no breeding pairs within one kilometre of the turbines.

In 1989, BirdLife International made Smøla an Important Bird Area because it had one of the highest densities of white-tailed eagles in the world. Scientists now fear that wind farms planned for the rest of Norway - there are more than 100 proposals - could replicate the impact on wildlife of Smøla. Norway is the most important country in the world for white-tailed eagles.

Dr Rowena Langston, senior research biologist at the RSPB, said: "Smøla is demonstrating the damage that can be caused by a wind farm in the wrong location. The RSPB strongly supports renewable energies including wind, but the deaths of adult birds and the three young born last year make the prospects for white-tailed eagles on the island look bleak.

The RSPB strongly supports renewable energies including wind, but the deaths of adult birds and the three young born last year make the prospects for white-tailed eagles on the island look

Dr Rowena Langston - RSPB

"There are other wind farms close to Smøla which are putting more eagles in jeopardy too. The deaths of these birds show just how inadequate existing decision-making processes are for new technologies such as wind farms. Developers and governments should be taking note; these types of impact must be properly considered and acted upon when proposals are first made to avoid the unnecessary losses we are witnessing on Smøla."

The RSPB is backing a new four-year study at the site by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) at the site to assess the effects of turbines on swans and wading birds such as golden plover, dunlin and whimbrel, and on the ability of white-tailed eagles to adapt to the wind farm.

The charity believes climate change poses the greatest long-term threat to wildlife and strongly supports the development of renewable energy including wind farms, so long as they are well sited.

But British government proposals, pushed hard by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott before he was stripped of his departmental duties, called for massive programme of off-shore windfarms around our coasts.

Unfortunately, these are often important areas for resident seabirds and staging posts for millions of migratory species. Just how to square this circle is all set to be a major problem for the RSPB and other conservation bodies.

Feedback received on this subject:

It is desirable to take care of eagles.

Wind turbines don't last forever, and it is debatable whether the useful energy generated during their lifetime significantly exceeds the energy required to build, instal and maintain them.

A distinguished old friend Stephen Salter whom I knew in 1957 would have more to say.

Charles Warner Hindhead, Surrey

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