Wind turbines and bats: assessment of conflict between wildlife conservation and green energy production

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences


By 2020, 15% of the UK's energy is to be generated from renewable sources, according to the government's Energy Strategy. This is necessary to reduce the UK's reliance on fossil fuels, and to meet international targets for CO2 emissions. This application investigates conflicts between green energy production and wildlife conservation, and will develop guidance and mitigation strategies. It falls within NERC studentship priority areas 2 and 6 (but has public sector partners). Wind energy is the major contributor to renewable electricity production in the UK (one of the most suitable locations in the EU for wind turbines). A massive expansion has occurred over the past decade: there are now 268 operational 'wind farms', and a similar number have planning consent. Yet it is recognised in Continental Europe and N. America that turbines can cause ecological damage to bats and birds by both direct mortality and behavioural disruption. The PI is already funded to conduct the first major study of the effects of British wind farms on bats. The present application widens this work by investigating another type of unstudied wind-energy system, mid-sized, single-turbine installations (50-300kW; 25-50m high). There is virtually no evidence available about the potential effects of these installations on wildlife. Yet construction has increased dramatically over the last two years, reflecting technological advances and alterations to subsidy schemes. Later this year they are will become 'Permitted Developments' which will require less planning scrutiny. However, particularly in rural areas, they may adversely affect local bat populations because: i. While formal surveys are only just beginning, there are anecdotal reports by qualified ecologists of noctule and soprano pipistrelle deaths at 3 large 'wind farms' in suboptimal bat habitat in the UK; and mortality in other countries is established. ii. Mid-sized turbines have lower heights and could therefore present a greater risk, since most species fly below 50m. iii. Single mid-sized turbines are commonly sited on agricultural land, often close to features of high value for bat commuting or foraging. Pilot data collected by the PI in South West England has already recorded protected Annexe II species at target sites for turbines. iv. Mid-sized turbines are designed to work efficiently even at low wind-speeds, when bats are likely to be flying. Impact Through national and EU law, all bats are protected from actions leading to mortality and from disturbance likely to affect local populations. Several species with strongholds in South-West England and Wales are also protected under Annexe II of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. Uncertainty about the mortality and disturbance caused by wind turbines compromises the ability of Statutory Nature Conservation Organisations (SNCOs), local planners and professional ecologists to discharge their responsibilities and this study will address that deficiency. Effective guidance on mitigation and siting of turbines, and on pre-and post-construction monitoring protocols will be produced. This may allow continued construction of turbines which could otherwise be prevented. Methods This project will use methods developed in the DEFRA/CCW/SNH/Renewable UK-funded project on commercial wind farms and bats to evaluate mortality rates and bat activity levels. In addition, we will investigate whether there are behavioural differences in bats at wind turbine and control sites using acoustic monitoring. Deliverables Determination of whether mid-sized wind turbines cause bat mortality Estimation of effect size, with confidence intervals indicating level of uncertainty Estimation of effect of wind turbines on bat foraging and commuting Contributions to clarify legal position regarding wind turbines and bats Guidance on mitigation and and protocols for pre-/post-construction monitoring


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