Study eases fear about wind farm threat to birds

LONDON Wed Oct 1, 2008 8:53am EDT

Power-generating windmill turbines form a wind farm on Backbone Mountain near Thomas, West Virginia August 28, 2006. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Power-generating windmill turbines form a wind farm on Backbone Mountain near Thomas, West Virginia August 28, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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LONDON (Reuters) - Wind turbines do not drive birds from surrounding areas, British researchers said on Wednesday, in findings which could make it easier to build more wind farms.

Conservation groups have raised fears that large birds could get caught in the turbines and that the structures could disturb other species.

But scientists found only one of the 23 species studied, the pheasant, was affected during their survey of two wind farms in eastern England.

The findings published in the Journal of Applied Ecology could help government and business efforts to boost the number of wind farms as a way to increase production of renewable energy.

"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," Mark Whittingham, whose team from Newcastle University carried out the research, said in a statement.

"This should be welcome news for nature conservationists, wind energy companies and policy makers."

The survey studied the impact of two wind farms on about 3,000 birds in the area, including five species of conservation concern -- the yellowhammer, the Eurasian tree sparrow, the corn bunting, the Eurasian skylark and the common reed bunting.

The researchers recorded the density of birds at different distances from the turbines and found that aside from the pheasant, the structures posed no problems.

The new findings are important because the European Union is committed to generating 20 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2020 and is also seeking to boost biodiversity.

The study did not look at the danger of the birds colliding with the turbines, which has been a worry of conservationists, Whittingham said.

Spanish utility Iberdrola, Germany's E.ON and Scottish & Southern Energy all operate wind farms.

In August, Czech power group CEZ announced plans to build the biggest onshore wind park in Europe.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Avril Ormsby)

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