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From the RSPB pdf file

Reducing the impacts of climate change on wildlife

The use of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, produces greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.  The RSPB views climate change as the most serious long-term threat to wildlife in the UK and globally.  Recent scientific research indicates that, as early as the middle of this century, climate change could commit one third or more of land-based plants and animals to extinction, including some species of British birds. (See the RSPB leaflet on Climate change and birds.)

If we are to avert serious disruption to natural, social and economic systems, we need to act now to limit the use of fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Most scientists and major scientific bodies consider that emission cuts of 60% or more are needed within the next fifty years, and the UK has a goal to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. Achieving this needs firm action by both governments and society.  Reducing demand and increasing efficiency are a top priority, for both energy and transport, but alone they are not enough to achieve the emission reductions needed. To do that we also need to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, including wind power.


What is the RSPB's position on wind power and other renewables?

The RSPB backs the UK Government target to source 15% of electricity from renewables by 2015, and its aspiration to source 20% from renewables by 2020.  We also welcome the Scottish Executive’s more ambitious target of obtaining 40% of electricity from renewables by 2020.

To meet these targets, the RSPB favours a broad mix of renewables, especially those, like solar energy, with large long-term potential and minimal environmental impacts.  However, for the foreseeable future, wind power – the most advanced and widely available of the new renewable technologies – has the greatest potential to make a significant difference in the UK and globally, at an economic cost increasingly close to that of fossil fuels.

The RSPB therefore supports the increased use of wind power, as long as wind farms are sited, designed and managed so they do not harm birds or their habitats.  The development of any form of energy, renewable or otherwise, must not compromise nature conservation objectives.


How do wind farms affect birds?

The available evidence suggests that wind farms can pose three main problems for birds – disturbance, habitat loss or damage, and collision. Birds may be scared away from their usual locations by construction noise or the presence of vehicles (boats or vans) during construction and maintenance, or by the presence of operating turbines.  The wind farm itself or its associated roads or buildings may physically destroy birds’ feeding, breeding or roosting sites.  Birds may fly into the turbine tower or the blades and be killed or injured, and are at particular risk of doing so in storms or conditions of poor visibility.

Poorly sited wind farms have caused some major bird casualties, particularly in Tarifa and Navarra in Spain, and the Altamont Pass in California.  At these sites, planners failed to consider adequately the likely impact of putting hundreds of turbines in areas that are important for feeding and migrating birds of prey.  Tragically, many hundreds of raptors have been killed as a result.

Wind farms must be located away from narrow bird migration routes and concentrated feeding, breeding and roosting areas.  They must not be permitted where they would have adverse impacts on nationally and internationally protected wildlife sites.

The available evidence suggests that, if these guidelines are followed (and we describe below our efforts to ensure that they are), wind farms do not pose a significant problem for birds.  In the UK, we have not so far witnessed any major adverse effects on birds associated with wind farms.  However, few large wind farms yet exist in the UK, though many are being proposed.  The location and design of future wind farms needs to be informed by monitoring and analysing the environmental impacts of wind farms as they become operational.  Continued vigilance will be necessary and a willingness to adapt policy and practice in the light of experience.

Even when wind farms are appropriately sited and designed, the surrounding area needs to be managed to avoid attracting vulnerable species to the wind farm.  For instance, in Wales, a red kite killed by a wind turbine may have been drawn to the location by a nearby kite feeding station that was set up after the wind farm.


What is the RSPB doing to minimise the risk to birds?

The RSPB considers that the impact of wind farms on birds depends crucially upon where the farms are located. To ensure that wind farms do not threaten birds, the RSPB emphasises the need for a full assessment of the environmental impacts for proposed developments that we believe might pose a serious problem for birds.  We devote considerable resources to scrutinising wind farm proposals and their environmental assessments ourselves.

The RSPB objects to wind farms when:

.                                  there is an inadequate assessment of the impacts on birds or their habitats, 

.                                  the assessment reveals potentially serious problems for birds or their habitats that cannot be controlled or avoided, or 

.                                  there is insufficient information about the risks to birds and their habitats to conclude that there will not be a problem.


Between 1998-2003, we objected to 27 wind farm proposals, both on and offshore, and we lodged written concerns about a further 29.  We have recently objected to a proposed wind farm at Shell Flat, off the Lancashire coast, because the area supports an internationally important population of common scoter.

In addition to assessing the impacts of individual schemes on birds, the RSPB identifies areas that we believe should be avoided by wind development altogether. We campaign hard to make sure that nationally and internationally important areas for birds are identified and protected from damaging activities and developments.

We are also calling for a more strategic and long-term planning approach to wind development than is currently being taken, including a closer examination of the effects of interactions among wind farms and between wind farms and other forms of development.

To inform the most recent “Second Round” of offshore wind development, the RSPB called for a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of potential long-term and combined impacts over the whole area being considered for development. This assessment was undertaken and resulted in a Government decision that, for the second round, within the development area, wind farms should not be proposed within 8 km of the coast, or within 13km in sensitive coastal areas, or, in north west England, in shallow waters less than 10m deep.  Developers who were awarded provisional licences in the second round must now work together to collect and assess environmental information at a regional level before development receives final approval.


Does the RSPB work with wind farm developers?

Increasingly, wind farm developers approach the RSPB (and other environmental bodies) asking for advice on the suitability of an area for development – before planning applications are made. These early contacts give us the opportunity to flag up sensitive sites and steer developers away from areas of potential risk. Risky areas may include sites near nature reserves or areas protected for wildlife, or in bird migration corridors. Such consultation helps us stop or adjust inappropriate development early on, which benefits all concerned.

Discussions with developers do not compromise the RSPB’s position. We will object to any wind development if we think there could be a serious problem for birds or their habitats.



Climate change is the most significant, long-term threat to biodiversity worldwide.  To help meet this threat, the RSPB strongly supports moves to increase energy efficiency, reduce energy demand and supply more of our energy needs from renewable sources, including wind power, provided they do not harm birds or their habitats.

Dotterels could lose their UK habitat to climate

UK Headquarters,
The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire
SG19 2DL.
Telephone 01767 680551
Northern Ireland Headquarters, Belvoir Park Forest,
Belfast BT8 7QT. 
Telephone 028 9049 1547
Scotland Headquarters, 25 Ravelston Terrace,
Edinburgh EH4 3TP. Telephone 0131 311 6500
Wales Headquarters, Sutherland House, Castlebridge,
Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff CF11 9AB.
Telephone 029 2035 3000 published 2004

The RSPB is the UK charity working to secure a healthy environment for birds and wildlife, helping to create a better world for us all.

Registered charity no 207076 Illustrations by Dan Powell wpo\sc\5190 Version of February 2004