The Great Auk was a majestic, flightless bird, wiped out by humans in the 19th century. A beautiful creature that the world will never see again. Human greed and disregard for the natural world put an end to this and countless other species over the centuries. One might have thought that, in these days of supposedly enlightened awareness of the environment and the creatures with which we share the planet, we humans would have stopped killing wild animals and birds and pushing them to the brink of extinction and beyond.
However, it sometimes seems that what we are doing is just making the task ever more streamlined and efficient. Wind turbines, vast banks of them off our coasts and on our precious land, are killing birds in huge numbers – many of them already protected or endangered species. Potentially, the turbines could be making swift work of decimating bird populations and the only difference between our ancestors callously hunting birds to extinction and today's disregard for the birdlife around us is that technology has made the method of dispatching them both faceless and business-like. What might have taken decades or centuries in the past could now see bird populations wiped off the face of the earth in record time.
Well done people.
Their effect on avian life has led to the turbines being referred to by some as 'bird blenders'.
Some facts for you:-
Puffins and other species are at great risk off the coast of the USA and in Scotland where banks of turbines are planned in and around the breeding and feeding grounds of the birds.
Inland, US legislation reportedly accepts the incidental deaths of up 4,200 Golden Eagles as a casualty of the establishment of wind farms over the next 30 years.
Whooping Cranes are also endangered by wind farms in the USA. This is the world's rarest Crane and according to ABC (American Bird Conservancy) “Although this species has been saved from extinction for the moment, and populations are increasing.......poorly-sited wind turbines pose a particular threat to Whooping Cranes, since their population is still so dangerously small.” At least 5,500 turbines already exist in the species' migratory corridor and more than 18,000 are planned.
Migrating species such as Trumpeter Swans, Snow Geese and some species of duck may be severely affected by turbines if plans for a wind farm in Missouri go ahead.
In 2015, CBS News reported that: “An analysis by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) shows that more than 30,000 turbines overlap with federally protected bird habitat, including 24,000 in the migratory corridor of the Whooping Crane and 3,000 in breeding grounds of the endangered Greater Sage-Grouse.”
Several million more birds are killed by the power lines and pylons that carry the power generated by the turbines.
Back here in the UK, RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Scotland, which is an organisation supportive of renewable energy, was forced into opposing plans for four huge windfarm projects on the Firth of Forth and Firth of Tay due to the significant impact it believed there would be on populations of protected species including Puffins and Kittiwakes. They said, at the time the initial plan was given consent, that the projects were predicted to have the potential to kill tens of thousands of seabirds over their lifetimes. However, despite a valiant effort to halt the plans, the project appears to be going ahead. The RSPB says “Whilst we fully support deployment of renewable energy, this must not be at any cost. Combined, these four huge projects threaten to kill thousands of Scotland's internationally protected seabirds every year, including thousands of puffins, gannets and kittiwakes. These could be amongst the most deadly windfarms for birds anywhere in the world.”
The problem is that some wind farms are poorly located in areas where their impact on birdlife can be enormous. We are now several years into the development of wind farm technology and still we see plans passed for turbines in locations which will impact heavily on birds and other wildlife. This is quite inexcusable and I believe points to the fact that energy companies care less about wildlife than they do about profit.
The poorly located Scottish developments are mirrored around the world.
In Kenya, the proposed Kipeto Wind Energy project could impact on at least two species which are already on the brink of extinction, Rüppell's Vulture and the White-backed Vulture.
In North America, proposed wind farm projects that will likely cause major harm to bird populations include the one at Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts. According to ABC, this project is in area with one of the largest concentrations of migratory birds in the world and they say that there would be a “high risk of catastrophic mortality events” to species that include the already endangered Piping Plover and Roseate Tern.
There are many more examples of plans for poorly located wind farms in the United States.
Wind farms in China and India are also cause for concern and although bird mortality figures here are harder to find, it seems likely that bird populations are being negatively affected.
In summary, as wind farms continue to be constructed around the world, sometimes planned with little regard for the impact they may have on wildlife, we can foresee a potentially catastrophic decline in some of our most endangered species.
We haven't learnt any lessons from the past it seems.
From the Dodo to the Great Auk, mankind's disregard for the birdlife of our planet seems destined to continue.
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