Another aspect of the bird/ wind farm debate comes from Birds Australia, well known as being a passionate advocate for the protection of birds and the habitats on which they depend.
Their mission is:
“to halt the loss of our native birds. To do this we must protect what is left of our native vegetation and restore environmental health to our landscapes by repairing what has been degraded and replacing what has been lost”.
And as they note, Australia’s birds face unprecedented challenges to their survival from a range of sources, notably habitat destruction, feral predators, and climate change.
BA has sometimes opposed wind farms where they believe they would turbines will impact negatively on bird populations (as was the case with the Oaklands Hill wind farm proposal), yet their common sense policy on wind farms shows an understanding of the many pressing threats to bird populations.
A stand out quote from the policy:
“While some windfarms are a high profile cause of bird mortality, in reality there are a number of other human-related causes of bird mortality which kill many more birds. Among these are other structures which represent collision risks to birds, such as lighted telecommunication towers, home and office windows, and automobiles”.
BA have done substantial work on the question of the impact of climate change on bird propulations.
One key example is the fact that many of Australia’s waterbirds rely heavily on wetlands which lie around the coastline for their survival, and the inundation of coastal freshwater wetlands by salt water caused by rising sea levels would make them uninhabitable. Further, beaches and mudflats which are currently used by many species of shorebirds are likely to become permanently submerged.
There is a brief summary of climate change impacts on bird populations here.
Birds Australia supports well located wind farms provided they have no significant impact on bird populations.
You can find their wind farm policy here.
The availability of suitable sites for windfarm developments is limited by the need for strong and consistent winds, access to the electricity grid, and important environmental, social, and landscape considerations. Birds also occur in locations suitable for windfarms, and it is well established that windfarms cause at least some bird mortality. From the perspective of bird conservation, the key issue is whether a windfarm would pose a risk of significant impact upon bird populations. Significant conservation problems may be most likely to occur either where populations are vulnerable to relatively low rates of mortality (e.g. threatened species or those with low reproductive rates) and/or for birds which are likely to be killed in high numbers (e.g. migratory or flocking species). Many birds at risk of being killed by windfarms are protected under International, National and State legislation.
Wind farms represent a source of relatively non-polluting, renewable energy. Anthropogenic sources of atmospheric carbon have been associated with global warming (climate change). Climate change is likely to impact negatively on bird conservation. A significant multilateral effort is required to radically reduce carbon emissions and improve the resilience of ecosystems to the impacts of climate change; greater reliance on renewable energy is only part of the solution. However, windfarms represent an important element in societal efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Therefore, it seems desirable to encourage wind power while avoiding any negative impacts on bird conservation.
While some windfarms are a high profile cause of bird mortality, in reality there are a number of other human-related causes of bird mortality which kill many more birds. Among these are other structures which represent collision risks to birds, such as lighted telecommunication towers, home and office windows, and automobiles.
Position Statement – wind farms
Birds Australia supports renewable energy sources. This can include windfarms on the following conditions:
1. Windfarms must not have a significant impact on bird populations, either because they confer a significant risk of mortality to threatened species, or by causing high levels of mortality among species which might be killed in high numbers, such as migratory or flocking species. Mortality should be avoided wherever possible, and windfarms should not be located near habitat where birds congregate or pass through in large numbers, such as at wetlands. Cumulative impacts of low levels of mortality should also be considered when assessing the conservation risk associated with windfarms.
2. A consistent, transparent process for the evaluation of the impact of windfarms on birds should occur for all proposed windfarms. Impact assessments need to be comprehensive, thorough and unbiased. They need to consider the full set of potential impacts at site, landscape and population levels, and to account fully for diurnal, interseasonal and interannual variation in bird distributions and numbers.
3. Any associated habitat destruction, or other indirect affects such as alterations in migratory flightpaths, need to be fully assessed and must not pose a significant threat to bird populations.
4. Comprehensive and ongoing monitoring of bird mortality should occur at all windfarms, so that rigorous data on mortality rates can be centralised and made publicly available. The monitoring must be designed to provide accurate measurements of mortality caused by windfarms. Also, data should be collected to allow habitat assessments in the vicinity of windfarms. Such data will:
· Allow assessment of the significance of any mortality in terms of bird conservation,
· Permit the design of new windfarms that kill fewer birds and
· Allow an adaptive management approach to mitigation of bird mortality.
5. Birds Australia also calls for more research on bird/windfarm interactions in Australia. This research should include, but not limited to, the following research areas:
· Improved carcass monitoring and the development of reliable predictive models for collision rates. These models should include environmental factors such as windspeed and time of the day or night.
· Understanding bird behaviour in relation to windfarms.
· Improved mitigation techniques, including vegetation management.
· Comparisons of predicted versus actual mortality rates.
· Improved integration of existing information on bird distributions and behaviour when selecting suitable sites for windfarms.
· Improved turbine technology that aims to improve the efficiency of energy generation and reduce the negative impacts on birds.
6. The windfarm industry should encourage and facilitate this research, and it should be conducted in a scientifically rigorous manner by independent researchers.