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Weak relationship between risk assessment studies and recorded mortality in wind farms

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Summary

1. Wind farms generate little or no pollution. However, one of their main adverse impacts is bird mortality through collisions with turbine rotors.

2. Environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies have been based on observations of birds before the construction of wind farms. We analysed data from 53 EIAs in relation to the actual recorded bird mortalities at 20 fully installed wind farms to determine whether this method is accurate in predicting the risk of new wind farm installations.

3. Bird data from EIAs were compared with bird collisions per turbine and year at functional post‐constructed wind farms to identify any relationship between pre‐ and post‐construction studies.

4. Significant differences in birds recorded flying among the 53 proposed wind farms were found by the EIAs. Similar results were obtained when only griffon vultures Gyps fulvus and other raptors were considered. There were significant differences in indexes, including the relative index of breeding birds close to proposed locations, among the 53 proposed wind farm sites.

5. The collision rate of birds with turbines was one of the highest ever recorded for raptors, and the griffon vulture was the most frequently killed species. Bird mortality varied among the 20 constructed wind farms.

6. No relationship between variables predicting risk from EIAs and actual recorded mortality was found. A weak relationship was found between griffon vulture and kestrel Falco sp. mortality and the numbers of these two species crossing the area.

7.Synthesis and applications. There was no clear relationship between predicted risk and the actual recorded bird mortality at wind farms. Risk assessment studies incorrectly assumed a linear relationship between frequency of observed birds and fatalities. Nevertheless, it is known that bird mortality in wind farms is related to physical characteristics around individual wind turbines. However, EIAs are usually conducted at the scale of the entire wind farm. The correlation between predicted mortality and actual mortality must be improved in future risk assessment studies by changing the scale of these studies to focus on the locations of proposed individual wind turbine sites and working on a species specific level.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Ethology and Biodiversity Conservation, Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC), c/Américo Vespucio s/n, 41092 Seville, Spain 2: Asistencias Técnicas Clave SL c/Progreso 5, 41013 Seville, Spain 3: Fundación Migres, Complejo Huerta Grande, Crta N 340, km 96·7, 11390 Pelayo, Algeciras, Spain 4: Raptor Research Center, Department of Biological Sciences, Boise State University, 1910 University Dr, Boise, ID 83725, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2012

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