09:00 - 06 January 2004

Plymouth GP Dr Amanda Harry has conducted her own survey on the effect of noise on people living near the Bears Down wind farm in Cornwall. Here, she reveals her findings

With ever-increasing emphasis being placed on renewable energy, we must balance our natural desire to save the planet today by fully weighing up the risks of available resources against possible benefits. And we must look carefully at the effects they have on our health and our countryside.

Electricity generation from wind seems to be the current mainstay for the present Government's policy on renewable energy generation. Yet little research has been carried out regarding the problems of low frequency noise and its effects on the neighbours of these structures.

In fact, current recommendations for noise evaluation near wind turbine sites completely exclude the measurement of low frequency sound. The wind turbine companies state that the wind turbines at 350m will only produce noise which is equivalent to that in a quiet room, (35-45dB).

However, the sound measurement scale which they are using ( A weighting) completely ignores the low frequency components. A preferred method of noise measurement would take the whole range of frequencies into consideration by using, for example, a C weighting scale.

Low frequency sound is often beyond the audible range - i.e. you can't hear it, but you can feel it as a resonance, typically in the chest or through the feet etc.

This problem has been recognised by the World Health Organisation, which has said that special attention should be given to noises in an environment with low background sound levels, where there are combinations of noise and vibrations; and where there are noises with low frequency components.

It recognises that low frequency noise can disturb rest and sleep even at low sound levels. More importantly, the WHO states that in noises where a large proportion is in the low frequency range, the adverse effects on health may be considerably increased.

As a result of these findings WHO feels the evidence available on low frequency noise is sufficiently strong to warrant concern.

It goes further and suggests that for noise with a large proportion of low frequency sounds lower acceptable levels should be accepted (i.e. lower than 30dB).

Sadly, the UK is lagging behind the rest of Europe in taking these factors into consideration. But there is no getting away from the fact that low frequency noise causes extreme distress to a number of people who are sensitive to its effects.

I have recently had the opportunity to meet some people living near wind turbines. The range of distance from the nearest turbine to their properties was 300 metres to one mile. Of these people 93 per cent said that they felt their lives had been adversely affected by the effects of the turbines; 93 per cent are experiencing more headaches, and over 70 per cent are having problems sleeping, and suffering from anxiety symptoms.

Some people are having to leave their homes at times "to get away" from the nuisance. However, despite their obvious suffering, little is being done to help them relieve the situation and the residents feel their plight is being ignored.

Another complaint which I encountered when talking to these neighbours of turbines is the effect of the rotating blades in the sunlight - this characteristically causes a strobe effect (stroboscopic effects are a recognised trigger for epilepsy).

Interestingly, this effect is not only obtained by direct vision of the blades but also from the shadow flicker caused by the blades in the light. The people questioned stated that this was a cause of headaches, migraines, nausea, vertigo and disorientation in many residents, and this effect occurs at considerable distances.

The effects of low frequency noise are extremely difficult to manage as often sufferers develop an enhanced susceptibility - i.e. develop a heightened awareness to the noise after prolonged exposure.

Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) commissioned a review of published research on low frequency noise by Dr Geoff Leventhall earlier this year. In this document low frequency noise was classified as a background stressor which leads to inadequate reserves of coping and may lead to chronic psychological and physiological damage.

Therefore the symptoms can range from headaches, migraines, nausea, dizziness, palpitations, and tinnitus to sleep disturbance, stress and anxiety and depression. These symptoms will have a knock-on effect in daily lives, with poor concentration, daytime somnolence, irritability and inability to cope.

I have found from my discussions with neighbours of turbines that sleep disruption is a major problem. This is borne out by research from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, which shows that sound levels near a wind turbine park were up to 18dB higher at night when compared to daytime levels.

The researchers felt this discrepancy would be greater for taller turbines - which is important to remember, as the height of turbines is constantly increasing. (The gear box and gearing systems of the latest generation turbines are claimed to be quieter; however, the enormous blades increase noise levels as they swish through the air.)

The reason for these increased sound levels at night is because of air cooling, reducing the wind speed close to the ground. But the wind speed at hub height at night is higher than expected; therefore overall noise levels are increased.

With all the evidence available I feel that much more attention should be paid to health issues surrounding noise and shadow flicker. More detailed research is needed to explore these issues further. When sound measurements are being taken realistic measurement scales should be used, taking into consideration low frequency sound (i.e. C weighting).

In addition to this much consideration should be made of the location of these structures so that they are not in a position to cause harm or distress to their neighbours.

The community as a whole should be involved in consultation and dialogue around planning issues - but first, full and independently-acquired information should be made freely available to the general public.


A medical survey today throws the spotlight on how the noise from wind turbines can have an unbearable effect on people living next them.

And it points to how low frequency noise is making some people's lives so miserable with headaches, sleeplessness and anxiety that they are booking into B &Bs or taking a holiday just to get away.

One couple - Colin and Kathy Bird, from St Eval, Cornwall - have gone to far as to save 1,000 and move to Malta for a month.

The report by a Westcountry doctor comes as the Government rolls out plans for up to 1,000 turbines in the South West.

And that has led to a prediction that up to 10,000 people could suffer side-effects.

The report reveals that of all the people questioned near the Bears Down wind farm at Padstow, 93 per cent said their lives had been adversely affected. The same number experienced headaches and 70 per cent had problems sleeping and suffered anxiety.

The report comes as leading barrister John Campbell prepares the UK's first court case in Cumbria to try to get wind turbines there declared a statutory nuisance.

At the same time an eminent physician, Dr David Manley, who has conducted several surveys at Cornwall's St Breock and Bears Down sites, warns that low-frequency noise can make "people's nervous systems go wonky".

The questionnaire was carried out by Plymouth GP Amanda Harry, who is campaigning against wind farms in Cornwall. The findings are detailed in an article she has written for the Western Morning News today.

The Government is promoting wind power to try to produce 10 per cent of the UK's electricity from renewable sources by 2010. In the South West, that target has been raised to between 11-15 per cent.

But speaking to the WMN yesterday, Dr Harry warned: "People truly are suffering. And I think a lot of doctors will soon start seeing the effects of this, as it's going to increase. People will start to realise what is causing their complaints and we'll see the effects in the surgery."

Her comments are supported by Dr Manley, who has spent eight years studying low-frequency noise from wind turbines.

He said yesterday: "I'm concerned about the effect the noise has on people mentally and physically. It's a noise you cannot hear. People's nervous systems start to go wonky."

He described seismometer readings of ground-borne vibrations at Bears Down, which has 30-metre turbines, as "horrendous".

And he warned that the new generation of 60-metre turbines earmarked for the Westcountry could have dramatically worse effects. "The bigger the turbine the bigger the noise because the blades are going at about 100 miles an hour, which causes disturbance the equivalent of an aircraft propeller - except that the noise from the turbines goes on and on," he said.

He added that all his studies had arrived at similar conclusions about the effects on people's health.

"Wherever there are wind farms you have people suffering," he said.

He also claimed that the predicted 1,000 turbines for the South West could equate to 10,000 people suffering side-effects such as migraines, sleep deprivation and anxiety.

The issue is set to come to the fore with a legal test case in Cumbria where people living between 600-800 metres from the 60-metre turbines in the village of Askham complained of headaches and nausea. Barrister John Campbell is representing three couples at Kendal Magistrates Court in a fight to get wind turbines near their homes declared a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Health Act.

He said: "There are a number of complaints of sleep disturbance, headaches, and migraines that are driving people mad. They say it's a pervasive thump, thump noise from the blades."

He said that if they won the test case, which is expected to take several days, the turbines would either have to be stopped or removed.

Meanwhile, one couple living in a residential caravan near the Bears Down site have saved up 1,000 to go to Malta for a month because they say they cannot cope with life next to the turbines in winter when the winds are high.

In desperation last year, they booked into B &Bs in Newquay at Christmas.

Kathy and Colin Bird took early retirement through ill health from their jobs in Coventry as they sought a quiet life in Cornwall. Then they moved into their caravan in 2000, before the wind farm was built. But Mrs Bird now says: "It's just a throb when the wind is up - it's like the sound of a car going by with the stereo blaring, but it doesn't pass."

Matthew Spencer, chief executive of the South West Renewable Energy Agency (Regen) yesterday disputed whether the noise from turbines was the cause of their health complaints.

He said: "People may perceive that is their problem, but the turbines are not very noisy. Nothing has been proved about the health effects, but I would take these initial findings with a pinch of salt. These are arguments that people who are opposed to wind farms use."

He pointed out that travelling at 40mph would create a noise of 55 decibels at 100 metres while a wind turbine produced a noise of 35 decibels at 350 metres.

He said there was no evidence that the new generation of larger turbines planned for the South West would be a problem. "They are becoming less noisy as they are being developed," he said.

He added that the guidelines for the turbines were that they should not be within 400 metres of people's homes, and that noise had not proved a problem in the eyes of planners.

National Wind Power, which owns and operates the Bears Down wind farm, yesterday failed to respond to a series of questions put by the Western Morning News.