Whenever a new wind turbine project is announced, it's common for critics to pipe up and complain about the risk of bird kills. (See the comments section of our interview with Ecotricity's Dale Vince for an example of this argument.)
That strategy may fall a little flat with a planning application being submitted in Bedfordshire, however. The installation is being spearheaded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Britain's largest bird conservation group. Here's Paul Forecast, the director of the RSPB, explaining more about the RSPB wind turbine project from a joint press release issued with wind energy developer Ecotricity:
A wind turbine at our UK headquarters is the single biggest step we can take to reduce our carbon emissions, and will make a significant contribution to the RSPB’s carbon reduction targets. We can already see the impact that climate change is having on our countryside with saltmarsh and mudflats declining at a rate of 100 hectares per year in England. It is our responsibility to protect the rest of our environment for future generations.
Both Ecotricity and the RSPB say they have undertaken thorough environmental assessments of the site, and they are confident that there will not be a significant impact on either local wildlife or the surrounding community. In fact, the RSPB, together with the British Trust for Ornithology, has previously headed up some of the largest studies into the impact that wind farms have on bird species, finding that construction of these installations often has a larger impact than their ongoing operation. Here's how the BBC reported the RSPB's findings on wind turbines:
Impacts varied between species, with red grouse numbers recovering after construction, curlews declining and not recovering, and skylarks increasing. Their findings are published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. This is the latest in a long line of studies on wind farms' interactions with birds, but differs from most in its scale. Ten species of birds were included, and 18 wind farms in upland areas of the UK were studied — most were monitored before construction began, during construction, and again afterwards.
That's not to say there aren't potential issues with wind turbines, most notably where they are cited near prime raptor habitat. The RSPB has previously voiced concerns about turbine plans which posed a particular threat to rare birds, and remains adamant that careful assessments are necessary for all turbine installations. However, the charity insists that cutting carbon emissions has to be an urgent priority for any organization concerned about the survival of wildlife.
Of course, even the vocal support of the RSPB is unlikely to silence the anti-wind farm and climate skeptic lobbies. In fact a recent article in Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, a publication well known for publishing climate skeptic voices, argued that the RSPB makes millions from selling green energy to its supporters.
According to Paul Forecast, however, to argue whether or not to develop clean energy is a dangerous distraction. The real argument ought to be how and where we develop clean energy. The turbine planned for the RSPB headquarters, says Forecast, ought to be seen as an example for others to follow:
“We hope that by installing a wind turbine at our UK headquarters, we will demonstrate to others that, with a thorough environmental assessment, the correct planning and location, renewable energy and a healthy, thriving environment can go hand in hand.”
And here's Ruth Davis, head of climate change policy at the RSPB, making the case for low carbon energy as a central strategy for conservationists and anyone else interested in preserving the diversity of species we share this planet with.
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