Where not to put wind turbines: researchers map Europe’s danger zones

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Balancing the need for continued development of renewable energy and the impact of associated infrastructure on birds is an ongoing struggle. When it comes to erecting wind farms and power lines, it is important to know whether the structures will pose a serious danger to migrating and nesting birds.

The University of East Anglia has conducted research into high risk areas for migratory birds in Europe and North Africa, should wind turbines or power lines be built. The RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) were also involved, among 15 countries and organisations.

Maps were compiled from a total of 65 bird tracking studies to visualize areas where birds are more likely to fly at risk height. An altitude of 10 to 60 meters above the ground is considered dangerous for birds where power lines are proposed, while an altitude of 15 to 135 meters is dangerous near wind turbines. Data from existing buildings was also taken into account in the analysis. Many of the region’s main migration routes were found to be areas prone to bird strikes, while coastlines and major breeding grounds were also reported as dangerous.


Tracking data from the Spanish Imperial Eagle shows that the species is particularly at risk of collision with wind turbines (Jonathan Perera).

A total of 27 species were represented in the GPS data review, involving 1,454 individual birds. As follow-up studies are still only feasible for large birds, they have dominated the data set. Whooper Swan, Spanish Imperial Eagle, White Stork, Whooper Swan and Great Horned Owl were among the species most vulnerable to collisions.

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The authors of the study recognize that the world must move towards carbon-free energy to prevent the worst effects of climate change. However, they stressed that new wind turbines and power lines should be avoided in areas where these projects could pose a threat to significant numbers of birds, and that any infrastructure built in these areas should be accompanied by measures to minimize risk. .

Wind power capacity in Europe is expected to almost quadruple by 2050, while many countries in North Africa and the Middle East will also aim to increase the amount of energy they produce from wind offshore. The miles of high voltage power lines across the region will see a huge increase as more spinning blades appear in the landscape.



European wind energy capacity is expected to almost quadruple by 2050

Jethro Gauld, PhD researcher and lead author of the study, explained that protecting birds does not compromise climate goals. He said: “We know from previous research that there are many more suitable locations to build wind turbines than we need to meet our clean energy goals through 2050.

“If we can do a better job of assessing risks to biodiversity, such as the risk of bird strikes, in the planning process at an early stage, we can help limit the impact of these developments on the wildlife while achieving our climate goals.”

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