Wind Farm Strikes At Eagle Stronghold

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the large number of wind farms being built in the U.S., it is important to learn from Norway’s experience in siting the huge windmills.  Here is that story:

A KEY POPULATION of Europe’s largest eagle has been significantly reduced by a wind farm.

Only one White-tailed Eagle is expected to fledge from the wind farm site on the bird’s former stronghold of Smøla, a set of islands about six miles (10 kilometres) off the northwest Norwegian coast.

Turbine blades have killed nine of the birds in the last ten months including all three chicks that fledged last year. The number of young has crashed from at least ten each year before the wind farm was built, with numbers outside the wind farm falling as well–there are no breeding pairs within one kilometre of the turbines. In 1989, BirdLife International made Smøla an “Important Bird Area” because it had one of the highest densities of White-tailed Eagles in the World.

Scientists now fear that wind farms planned for the rest of Norway–there are more than 100 proposals–could replicate the impact on wildlife of Smøla. Norway is the most important country in the world for White-tailed Eagles.

Dr. Rowena Langston, Senior Research Biologist at The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said, “Smøla is demonstrating the damage that can be caused by a wind farm in the wrong location. The RSPB strongly supports renewable energies including wind, but the deaths of adult birds and the three young born last year make the prospects for White-tailed Eagles on the island look bleak.The Norwegian government ignored warnings of the consequences for wildlife of the Smøla wind farm proposal before it was built.

There are other wind farms close to Smøla which are putting more eagles in jeopardy too. The deaths of these birds show just how inadequate existing decision-making processes are for new technologies such as wind farms.

Developers and governments should be taking note; these types of impact must be properly considered and acted upon when proposals are first made to avoid the unnecessary losses we are witnessing on Smøla.

Researchers are now running weekly checks for dead birds at the 68-turbine Smøla site and pressure is mounting on the Norwegian government to improve environmental assessments, both from conservationists and the wind farm operator, Statkraft.

At the same time, the RSPB is backing a new four-year study at the site by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA)  to assess the effects of turbines on swans and wading birds such as Golden Plover, Dunlin and Whimbrel, and on the ability of White-tailed Eagles to adapt to the wind farm.

Arne Follestad, a Research Scientist at NINA said, “We know little of the cumulative effects of the many wind farms planned for Norway, so it is important to study their long term effects on the eagle population both on Smøla and elsewhere.”

The RSPB believes climate change poses the greatest long-term threat to wildlife and strongly supports the development of renewable energy including wind farms, so long as they are well sited.

The Norwegian government ignored warnings of the consequences for wildlife of the Smøla wind farm proposal before it was built. Dr Mark Avery, Conservation Director at the RSPB said, “The eagles’ deaths confirm the fears we expressed at that time and show how devastating a poorly sited wind farm can be.

‘Wind farms can and should be helping us tackle climate change and can do so without affecting important wildlife sites. It is vital now that environmental impact assessments take full account of conservationists’ advice and that those assessments help form the backbone of future decisions on wind farm
applications.–Royal Society for the Protection of Birds