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Keywords:

  • energy policy;
  • environmental planning;
  • permitted development rights;
  • renewable energy;
  • small wind turbines;
  • wildlife impacts;
  • wind energy

Summary

  1. For applied ecology to have real-world impact, collaboration between scientists, policy makers and industry is crucial. To demonstrate this, we present a case study of the planning process for micro-wind turbines (units generating <50 kW) in the UK. Micro-turbines are now routinely installed in many European countries and the USA, and in spite of the rapid growth in numbers, there has been little study of their impact on wildlife. Consequently, the evidence-base upon which to establish planning guidance is very limited.
  2. Using the situation in the UK as an example, we show that (i) the planning process for micro-turbines varies widely among local authorities; (ii) a lack of data on their effects on wildlife makes interpretation of ecological surveys problematic; and (iii) recent changes to the planning process, designed to permit installation of micro-turbines in some contexts without requiring planning permission, are unlikely to change this status quo.
  3. Synthesis and applications. We argue that (i) further research on the effects of micro-turbines on wildlife should take into account the needs of stakeholders, in particular, with regard to how effects may vary in different contexts; (ii) better planning guidance should be developed urgently, incorporating all available evidence and identifying further research needs; and (iii) a working group including representatives from the turbine industry, ecologists, policy makers and statutory bodies should be set up to streamline this process. These recommendations provide a starting point for on-the-ground turbine installers, planners and ecologists, and a way forward for managing the future planning process for micro-turbines.