Wind power is one of the fastest-growing renewable energy sources. It has become an excellent alternative to fossil fuels because of its inexhaustibility and affordability. As a result, thousands of wind farms, sites designated for the development of wind power, are being developed across Europe.
Despite their crucial contribution to reducing carbon emissions, building wind farms can also lead to environmental conflicts, such as habitat loss or fragmentation. “Understanding which species are more likely to be susceptible to these impacts is useful to determine the safest places to produce wind energy,” says Tris Allison, expert on wind farms and their effects on birds at Birdlife International.
Prevention before mitigation
Bats and some birds have a very distinct morphology and behaviour that make them particularly vulnerable to collisions. Large birds like vultures have restricted visual fields with big eyebrows that shield their eyes from the sun. As a result, vultures don’t actually see where they are flying because they are looking down searching for prey. This becomes a problem when wind farms are located along their trajectories.
Some birds, on the other hand, are aware of and know to avoid the turbine blades of wind farms. Although this kind of displacement might be beneficial in some cases, changing their usual habitat or migration route can be detrimental for some species.
Birds and bats are not the only species at risk. Many new wind farms are built on the seabed, also known as offshore, given the more constant speed of wind and, thus, better energy production than onshore. Nevertheless, if they are not located adequately, offshore wind farms can also have a negative impact on marine wildlife, seabirds, and zones of ecological interest.
Organisations like Birdlife International take the previously described factors into account and look for the most suitable places to construct wind farms. “We produce bird availability maps and overlay them with wind resource maps to identify sites with good wind resources, but also low sensitivity for wildlife,” says Allison.