Are wind farms killing bird life?

North of the border there have been claims that wind farms kill more birds of prey than illegal poisoning or shooting. Given North Yorkshire's reputation as a hot spot for raptor persecution, just what is the impact of wind farms on protected birds of prey in our county?

Experts say there is no data to suggest that wind farms present a problem to birds of prey.
Experts say there is no data to suggest that wind farms present a problem to birds of prey.

I first became aware of claims about the number of raptor deaths caused by wind farms when I spotted a social media post with a link to a national newspaper article. Keen to get a better understanding of where the idea had come from and whether it could be true, I traced it back to comments made by the Scottish Gamekeeper’s Association following the publication of a report by the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme, which is funded by the Scottish government to investigate suspected cases of wildlife poisoning.

Figures for the first half of 2014 showed four raptors were killed by wind turbines in Scotland and only two were found to have been poisoned or shot during that same period.

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In recent years there have been a string of well publicised cases in which protected birds of prey have been deliberately shot or poisoned in Yorkshire, many of them in the north of the county, giving it an unenviable reputation as something of a death trap for birds of prey.

Despite my attempts to obtain figures that would enable me to compare the number of deaths from wind farms with those resulting from illegal persecution, it soon became apparent that this information simply doesn’t exist for England, let alone for Yorkshire.

Paul Stancliffe, a spokesman for the British Trust for Ornithology, said: “There is no data on bird deaths from land-based wind farms. Most wind farms are off-shore, where they’re not an issue for raptors. Offshore wind farms can impact on seabirds but, of course, you don’t find the bodies of seabirds so there are no figures. Very little work has been done onshore.”

Confirming the absence of any data to prove or disprove the theory, RSPB spokesman Chris Collet pointed out that in Yorkshire there are no wind farms in the upland and moorland areas where you would expect to find hen harriers and other protected birds of prey.

He said: “There’s no-one logging this information but wind turbines will inevitably kill some birds at some point. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that there’s a problem with them killing birds of prey because they’re not located in areas that are their typical habitat.

“You do get instances where wind turbines have been spectacularly badly located - on migratory routes for example. Studies have shown that there are wind farms in Spain, Gibraltar and elsewhere overseas that are very badly sited for birdlife.

“There’s a myth that’s perpetuated that wind farms are like bird blenders and it’s just not true as studies shows that birds can see them and tend to avoid them, even if it’s foggy.”

Chris confirmed that the RSPB’s policy is to object to wind farms that would have an adverse effect on nationally and internationally important bird species. This prompted the organisation to oppose plans to develop major offshore wind farms off the Holderness Coast, which is an important breeding ground for seabirds, including gannets and kittiwakes.

Despite the comments made by its Scottish counterpart, the National Gamekeeper’s Organisation doesn’t have a particular stance on the issue.

NGO spokesman Julian Murray-Evans said: “There is currently no policy on wind farms. It is possible that we may develop one in the future, but we have 15,000 members and it has not come through this office.”