Wind energy and birds

So who to believe? Are wind farms the avian destroyers that some wind energy opponents would have us believe or are those claims trumped up for effect?

The science and experience supports the case that the operation of most wind farms does not result in bird deaths. However, there are cases where bird strike has been evident when turbines have been built in migratory flight paths and in raptor habitats. In doing my discourse analysis for my dissertation I have analysed the web pages of the principal bird protection/ornithologist societies in Victoria and the UK to try to characterise the story these groups are telling.

Birds Australia (Vic) …

What these organisations include on their web pages and what they do not is illuminating. RSPB is campaigning for climate change action, arguing that climate change will affect bird habitat and survival. Its views on wind energy are neutral. After being an initial critic of a number of proposed wind farms, RSPB appears to have softened its stance. It has even begun supporting some wind energy developments. It may well be that developers are now engaging with RSPB before they raise their proposals. Certainly that is the ‘accusation’ made by some of the fiercest wind farm opponents in the UK – the countryside protection societies.

Back in Victoria, meanwhile, where the plight of the orange-bellied parrot clouded the future of at least one wind farm development as politics were played out fiercely in Gippsland, Birds Australia is mute on climate change and wind energy. It is not afraid to campaign. Its web page shows that it has opposed two state advocated developments over the past three years – deepening of shipping channels and a ‘industrial waste containment facility’ (or ‘toxic waste dump’, depending on the discourse you adopt) – on the basis that these developments would result in habitat loss and loss of food sources.

So who is arguing for the birds? It appears that threatened birds and their supposed potential destruction is a cause that has been adopted by countryside protection groups – the chief rival of the wind energy industry. One decision-maker has confided in me that these groups use it as one of their arsenal in public fora, believing that a breadth of argument will help their case. The problem, it seems, is that they are forced into this situation because their values are not respected in these decision-making fora. The landscape is difficult to assess. It is subjective, afterall. It is therefore rarely assessed and prioritised. And rational scientists generally and erroneously conflate concerns about visual amenity with landscape.

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