Upland raptors and the assessment of wind farm impacts


*Corresponding author. Email: Mike.Madders@natural-research.org


Government targets on renewable energy coupled with anthropogenic constraints on development have resulted in a surge in proposals to locate wind farms in upland areas, where they may conflict with the wellbeing of scarce or rare bird species including raptors. European and UK legislation demand that the effects of wind farm developments, both individually and in combination, be assessed to determine the level of impact on these species. The principle adverse effects of wind farms on raptors, as for other terrestrial birds, potentially involve disturbance (displacement or barrier impacts) or collision fatality. Few long-term studies on such effects of wind farms have been undertaken. We review available research results on displacement of raptors, which primarily involve foraging birds, and conclude that most studies indicate that displacement appears to be negligible, although some notable exceptions occur and more research is needed. There is also a need for better understanding of the numbers of birds likely to be killed through collision with turbine rotors at the site level in order to inform planning decisions, although models of bird distribution at several spatial scales can be used to circumvent potential difficulties when locating turbines. Modelling approaches have also been developed that attempt to quantify the theoretical risk of collision. One such approach, the Band model, is a valuable tool for impact assessment and its use is now widespread in the UK. However, there are practical problems associated with gathering the data required to run the model and numerous assumptions must be made concerning bird behaviour. This can lead to deficiencies in the input parameters which potentially have a large effect on the model outputs. Hence, we make recommendations for potential improvements, such as quantifying error in flight height estimation, training of observers in acuity skills, quantifying bird detection-distance functions, and research on factors influencing activity budgets and flight behaviour. In addition, the model outputs are usually adjusted to take account of turbine avoidance by birds and this aspect of birds’ behaviour is poorly understood. As a result of these limitations, collision predictions are only indicative, and more reliable in some situations, and for some species, than others.