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January 28, 2006
Wind farms condemned as eagles fall prey to turbines
By Valerie Elliott
The drive for clean energy is bad news for one of
Britain's rarest birds WIND turbines have
caused the deaths of four white-tailed eagles on isolated islands off the
Thirty other eagles have failed to return to their
nesting sites within the wind farm area on Smola, 9.6km (six miles) northwest of
Norway, according to wildlife campaigners.
The dead birds were found
between August and December last year. Two had been sliced in half, apparently
by a turbine blade. Post-mortem examinations, however, attributed the birds’
deaths to multiple trauma caused by a heavy blow.
The Royal Society for
the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is concerned that wind farms in Britain could
exact a similar toll on native and migrating wild birds, especially as the
white-tailed eagle, the largest eagle species in Europe, is beginning to thrive
at last in the Western Isles of Scotland after a 30-year reintroduction project.
This area has also been earmarked by developers as prime land for the
construction of wind farms. Campaigners are already lobbying against a proposed
234-turbine project on peatlands on north Lewis because of the threat it poses
The effect of the wind turbines on white-tailed eagles has
been revealed after research by the RSPB in collaboration with the Norwegian
Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and the Norwegian Sea Eagle Project. Work
concentrated on Smola because it is listed by BirdLife International as an
important area and because it has one of the highest breeding figures for the
bird in the world.
It is possible that other deaths have gone undetected
because much of the wind park is rarely visited. Mark Avery, conservation
director at the RSPB, said: “These findings are shocking, yet may only be the
tip of the iceberg. Research on Smola is being stepped up and, if more dead
birds are found and even fewer are able to breed, we will be doubly determined
to fight wind-farm plans that could cause similar destruction in the UK.”
The 68-turbine wind farm on Smola was built by Norway between 2001 and
2005, despite an environmental assessment giving warning that it would pose a
threat to the eagles. BirdLife International took the case to the Berne
Convention, but the decision was upheld.
Conservationists are to
increase checks on the wind farm to determine the extent of the casualties and
the numbers of birds being bred this spring.
Researchers have not drawn
up final conclusions on the impact on the birds because of a wide variation in
their breeding numbers from year to year. There was also intensive construction
work at the wind park during the past two years.
Arne Follestad, a
research scientist at NINA, said: “Breeding results on Smola have been
strikingly poor compared with the 30 years before the wind farm was built. We
are only halfway through the research, yet, despite their site faithfulness, we
are not confident that white-tailed eagles will adapt to the turbines. As older
birds die, we do not know if new birds will occupy nest sites within the wind
Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, said: “The news
from Norway is of great concern to us. If white-tailed eagles have died because
of wind-turbine collisions, there are major implications for our own eagle
populations here in Scotland. We are campaigning hard against the proposed 234-
turbine wind farm on north Lewis partly because of the great danger it poses to
Scotland’s eagles.” He said that the peatlands were an environmentally sensitive
site protected under European law.
The Department of Trade and Industry
said in a statement that it was aware of the Norway study but that there was no
evidence that turbines in Britain have been responsible for any major adverse
effect on birdlife. A spokesmann added: “Wind farms help to reduce carbon
emissions and mitigate against climate change, which is an ever greater threat