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Study reveals just how deadly wind turbines are for migrating birds

The eco-friendly energy generators kill the creatures if they fly too close to them.

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Windmills for electric power production, Zaragoza province, Aragon, Spain
(Photo by Greens and Blues via Shutterstock)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

Wind turbines are taking a deadly toll on migrating birds, reveals a new study that highlights "hotspots" for fatal collisions.

The eco-friendly energy generators kill the creatures if they fly too close to them.

Researchers say in light of their findings that power lines should not be built in places where birds risk colliding with turbines as they migrate.

Birds are more likely to get too close to turbines and power lines on key migration routes, on the coast and at key breeding grounds, according to the study.

Many such spots lie in Mediterranean regions including the South of France, Southern Spain and the Moroccan coastline.

They are also vulnerable in Eastern Romania, on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and along Germany’s Baltic coast.

For the study, researchers led by a team from the University of East Anglia (UEA), looked at GPS data from 65 bird tracking studies to work out where they fly at “danger height”, said to be 15 to 135 meters above wind turbines and 10 to 60 meters above ground near power lines.

The researchers, who analyzed the movements of 1,454 birds from 27 species, say any new wind turbines or power lines in bird hotspots must be sensitive towards the animals- and ideally should not be built at all.

Exposure to risk varied across the species, with the Eurasian spoonbill, European eagle owl, whooper swan, Iberian imperial eagle and white stork among those flying consistently at heights where they risk colliding with infrastructure.

The academics acknowledge that transitioning to net-zero by 2050 is essential if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided.

Onshore wind capacity in Europe is expected to be four times higher in 2050 than it is today.

High voltage power lines are also expected to be five times more powerful by the middle of the century.

Abstract nature. Flying birds. Blue sky background. Starlings.
(Photo by Greens and Blues via Shuttterstock)

However, they warn building new wind farms poses a threat to birds and say policymakers should do as much as possible to make sure they are built away from migration hotspots.

Lead author Jethro Gauld, a Ph.D. researcher at UEA, said: “We believe it is the first time GPS tracking data from multiple species has been used in this way.

“We know from previous research that there are many more suitable locations to build wind turbines than we need in order to meet our clean energy targets up to 2050.

“If we can do a better job of assessing risks to biodiversity, such as collision risk for birds, into the planning process at an early stage we can help limit the impact of these developments on wildlife while still achieving our climate targets.

“Our results will help achieve this and in doing so provide better outcomes for people and wildlife.

“Our maps can also help target measures to reduce risks where previously built developments are already causing problems.

“They highlight the areas where existing energy infrastructure is already providing a source of collision risk for these birds.

“It is, therefore, a key conservation priority for additional measures to reduce collision risk are implemented in these vulnerability hotspots.

“Such measures can include marking power lines to make them more visible and implementing systems to allow shutdown of wind turbines during periods of high bird traffic.”

Dr. Aldina Franco, the project supervisor at UEA, said: “This collaborative study including research from 51 researchers and 15 countries is a great example of where working together can start to answer some of the big questions around the threats that African-Eurasian migrants face on their long annual journeys."

Phil Atkinson, project supervisor from the British Trust for Ornithology said: “The use of high precision GPS devices allows us to study birds’ movements in huge detail.

“Birds do not respect country boundaries and power lines and wind turbines impact migratory birds across their annual cycle, especially for large soaring birds such as raptors and storks.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

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