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Minimal effects of wind turbines on the distribution of wintering farmland birds

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Energy production from wind power is increasing rapidly in Europe to help combat the threats from global warming. For example, the European Commission have set a target for 20% of EU energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. In recent decades, biodiversity on European farmland has fallen dramatically due to agricultural intensification. Agri-environment schemes (AES) have been implemented across the EU, in part at least, to combat these declines. Significant numbers of turbines are, and will be, built on farmland. There is, therefore, a potential conflict between wind turbines and AES on farmland.

Various mechanisms potentially cause wind turbines to alter bird distribution including noise and physical structure.

We show that turbine location (controlling for other effects such as boundary location and crop type) did not affect the distribution of four functional groups of wintering farmland birds (seed-eaters, corvids, gamebirds and Eurasian skylarks) at differing distances from wind turbines ranging from 0–150 m to 600–750 m. The only species for which distribution was related to the presence of wind turbines was the largest and least manoeuvrable (common pheasant Phasianus colchicus L.).

In a further analysis of data collected at 0–75 m and 75–150 m from turbines, we found no evidence to suggest that farmland birds in our study avoided areas close to wind turbines.

Synthesis and applications. This is the first evidence suggesting that the present and future location of large numbers of wind turbines on European farmland is unlikely to have detrimental effects on farmland birds (at least for those species included in our study). This should be welcome news for nature conservationists, wind energy companies and policy-makers. However, our work is only a first step, as there may be potential influences of wind turbines on bird distribution during the breeding season.
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Keywords: agri-environment schemes; climate change; disturbance; farmland biodiversity; noise pollution; sustainable agriculture; wind energy

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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