In an attempt to reduce CO2 emissions and tackle climate change, the UK government has set targets of 10% of energy output by 2010, and 15% by 2015, to be sourced from renewable energy, with an aspirational 20% by 2020 (Morley 2006). This is a considerable challenge, and the race is on to meet these targets. Of the renewables sufficiently advanced to contribute to these goals, wind energy constitutes the major component, with offshore wind farms expected to deliver the bigger share (British Wind Energy Association; Other sources of renewable energy at different stages of development in the UK are: hydro, which currently supplies 2% of the UK's installed energy capacity (and is particularly important in Scotland); solar; tidal (tidal stream); wave power; and biomass – all of which are relatively small scale at present.

Formerly, considerable investment was made into research in tidal power barrages (Clark 2006). Whilst these are no longer at the forefront of renewable energy development in the UK, the associated research has increased our understanding of birds in intertidal habitats; and hence the potential impacts on birds of energy generation schemes in these habitats.

Clearly, the impacts of a changing climate – sea level rise, warmer temperatures, changes in precipitation, and increasing extreme weather events, for example – all have implications for birds and other biodiversity (IPCC 2001), so renewable energy is welcomed as one of a raft of measures to help slow climate change. However, renewable energy developments can have their own impacts on biodiversity (e.g. Langston & Pullan 2003, Barrios & Rodriguez 2004, Hötker et al. 2004). What are these impacts? What research has been undertaken into their nature and likelihood? What research is needed? What contribution can ecological research make to inform renewable energy developments, thus minimizing any deleterious effects on biodiversity?

In recognition of the need to take stock, improve the mutual understanding of the technical and biological issues arising from different forms of renewable energy, and to attempt to minimize the potential conflict between renewables and birds, the British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) held its annual spring conference in 2005 on Wind, Fire and Water: Renewable Energy and Birds.

The conference was held at the University of Leicester, 1–3 April 2005, supported by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; the Department of Trade & Industry (for England and Wales); the Renewables Advisory Board; British Wind Energy Association; and English Nature. There were 190 attendees, comprising a broad range of interests, including: the scientific community; conservation bodies; environmental consultancies; government; and industry. This was an excellent opportunity to stimulate debate between people with different interests and perspectives, with the aim of starting a discourse that would continue beyond the conference. The topic of renewable energy routinely polarizes views, and the purpose of the conference was to: present an objective overview of the technologies and their potential effects on birds; methods of minimizing the risk of adverse impacts; and to identify gaps in knowledge and how to plug them.

The first presentation, on Friday evening, set the scene for the rest of the conference, and provided the link with an earlier BOU conference that was dedicated to climate change (Rehfisch et al. 2004). Prof. Brian Huntley (University of Durham), reminded delegates that climate change per se is not new, but the anthropogenic influence this time around is unprecedented (Huntley et al. 2006). Furthermore, the predicted rate and magnitude of change in global temperature and greenhouse gas emissions also are without parallel, at least during the evolution of most extant species. He described how we can learn from past responses to climate change and model likely responses to future climate change, illustrating this with examples from predictive models of changing bird distributions for Europe and Africa. Spatial responses are most likely – for those organisms that can move rapidly enough – and therein lies the problem. For many species, the shift in their preferred climate may outpace their ability to respond. The stark prognosis from a recently published global study by Thomas and colleagues (2004), is that a high proportion of plant and animal taxa (9–32%) might be committed to extinction by 2050.

There is a clear impetus for ‘action now’– to slow the pace of, or ideally reduce, future climate disruption – as termed by Dr Mark Avery (RSPB's Director of Conservation); a definition that better reflects the problems associated with climate change predictions. There is an urgent need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and use energy resources more wisely, to counter what is increasingly considered by some as the greatest threat to global biodiversity. We need to tackle other causes of accelerated climate change too, for example transport, in particular aviation, but that is a debate for another occasion. There was reference to nuclear power – because it is a carbon-free technology – but it is not renewable, and that thorny issue too was left for another day.

Internationally, the political debate is divided in terms of how to combat climate disruption, but there is recognition that a mix of renewable sources of energy has an essential role to play as part of a suite of measures. Following a welcome by the BOU's President, Prof. Chris Perrins, the official opening address was given by Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Environment and Agri-Environment (Morley 2006). Mr Morley stressed the need to maintain reliability, adequacy and affordability of energy supply, and for energy efficiency measures to be adopted in homes, businesses and transport. Of the renewable sources of energy, wind power is currently the most cost-effective, and both onshore and offshore wind farms are expected to be the main contributor to the 2010 target of 10% from renewable sources. This is an ambitious first goal in terms of timescale, and has brought into sharp focus the paucity of information regarding the impacts on biodiversity. The longer-term vision includes bringing online several novel technologies, notably wave and tidal, as well as increased involement from more established renewable sources, such as hydro and biomass, of which the latter is set to boost its contribution considerably.

Energy generation, including that from renewable sources, has its own potential for environmental harm. The requirement is to balance the risk of adverse impacts on biodiversity, with the need to address climate disruption. The Minister welcomed the conference as timely and helpful in identifying the issues and considering mitigation, stating that renewables cannot be at the expense of biodiversity. In the lively open-floor discussion that followed the opening speech, the Minister said that, whilst one could not say ‘no, never’, Special Protection Areas (SPAs) should be last on the list for development proposals. He also emphasized the need for monitoring to plug gaps in information and referred to the Marine Bill which will provide for spatial planning of activities in the marine environment, including energy, fishing, and aggregates, thereby helping to minimize conflict. Further lively debate took place during the conference, culminating in the plenary session that closed the conference. Before that, a full and diverse programme of conference presentations took centre stage, as presented in these Proceedings of the 2005 Annual Conference of the BOU.


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  3. Acknowledgements
  • Barrios, L. & Rodriguez, A. 2004. Behavioural and environmental correlates of soaring-bird mortality at on-shore wind turbines. J. Appl. Ecol. 41: 7281.
  • Clark, N.A. 2006. Tidal barrages and birds. In Wind, Fire and Water: Renewable Energy and Birds. Ibis 148 (Suppl. 1): 152157.
  • Hötker, H., Thomsen, K.-M. & Köster, H. 2004. Auswirkungen regenerativer Energiegewinnung auf die biologische Viefalt am Beispiel der Vögel und der Fledermäuse – Fakten, Wissenslücken, Anforderungen and di Forschung, ornithologische Kriterien zum Ausbau von regenerativen Energiegewinnungsformen. Gefördert Vom Bundesamt Fur NatürschutZ. Förd, no. Z1.3–684, 11–5/03. December 2004. Available at:
  • Huntley, B., Collingham, Y.C., Green, R.E., Rahbeck, C. & Willis, S.G. 2006. Potential impacts of climate change upon birds. In Wind, Fire and Water: Renewable Energy and Birds. Ibis 148 (Suppl. 1): 828.
  • IPCC. 2001. Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. .
  • Langston, R.H.W. & Pullan, J.D. 2003. Wind farms and birds: an analysis of the effects of wind farms on birds, and. Guidance on Environmental Assessment Criteria and Site Selection Issues. Report by BirdLife International to the Council of Europe, Bern Convention. Sandy, UK: RSPB/BirdLife in the UK.
  • Morley, E. 2006. Opening address to the BOU Annual Conference, Wind, Fire and Water: Renewable Energy and Birds, Leicester 2005. In Wind, Fire and Water: Renewable Energy and Birds. Ibis 148 (Suppl. 1): 47.
  • Rehfisch, M.M., Feare, C.J., Jones, N.J. & Spray, C. 2004. Climate Change and Coastal Birds. In Proceedings of the joint BOU/ECSA (Estuarine and Coastal Studies Association) Conference, Hull 2002. Ibis 146 (Suppl. 1): 1–124.
  • Thomas, C.D., Cameron, A., Green, R.E., Bakkenes, M., Beaumont, L.J., Collingham, Y.C., Erasmus, B.F.N., Ferreira de Siqueira, M., Grainger, A., Hannah, L., Hughes, L., Huntley, B., Van Jaarsveld, A.S., Midgley, G.F., Miles, L., Ortega-Huerta, M.A., Townsend Peterson, A., Phillips, O.L. & Williams, S.E. 2004. Extinction risk from climate change. Nature 427: 145148.


  1. Top of page
  3. Acknowledgements

Wind, Fire & Water: Renewable Energy & Birds was a conference organized by Rowena Langston (The RSPB) and Steve Dudley (BOU) on behalf of the British Ornithologists’ Union.

The BOU is grateful to the individual speakers and their respective organizations for presenting their work at the conference.

The BOU and the conference organizers are grateful to Richard Evans, Guy Anderson, Sam Gardner and Alison McLennan (all The RSPB) for their help and support during the conference weekend.

The BOU is very grateful to Rowena Langston (Guest Editor) and her editorial team, Guy Anderson, Allan Drewitt, Richard Evans, David Gibbons, Richard Oxley and Jeremy Wilson, for their invaluable work in delivering these proceedings within 12 months of the conference being held.

These proceedings have been published with generous support from The RSPB, Department of Trade and Industry, Renewables Advisory Board, British Wind Energy Association and English Nature.