There is currently debate about the effect of wind turbines on bird populations, in particular bird habitats, breeding and feeding grounds, migration routes and other well-used flight paths. However, many of the perceived adverse effects can be eliminated through good design and location.
It is now widely accepted that the effects of climate change pose the most serious threat to wildlife today. Most ecological organisations support moves to reduce the causes of climate change and its potential damaging effects.
A significant proportion of the UK is protected for its ecological value either due to the presence of protected species including birds, or for the habitat it provides. Any development proposed for these areas must be able to demonstrate either that there will be no damaging effects resulting from the construction and operation of the development, or that the development is of overriding national need.
Birds do not always live in protected areas and every proposed site must be assessed for the presence of birds either using the site itself for roosting, breeding or feeding, or flying nearby or through the site. This assessment is usually required as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and forms a key part of the assessment of the planning application.
Where a proposed development will have an adverse impact on the integrity of protected sites, development is likely to be resisted by statutory and non-statutory nature conservation bodies.
Many of the potential adverse effects of a wind farm are identified during the development of the project, well before it reaches the planning application. The detailed findings of the EIA expand upon the preliminary work and are often pivotal to the micrositing of the turbines. Planning conditions can be used to reduce any adverse effects that cannot be mitigated completely, but which are not significant enough to refuse the scheme. These could require the preparation of a habitat management plan before work starts, or the presence of an ecological officer during construction (and decommissioning).
Planning conditions can also be used to determine the time of year construction takes place, for example following the migration of a species present near the site. And most importantly, they can require that post-construction monitoring takes place. This is of particular importance as not only can it prove the findings of the EIA and justify the decision to build, but it can also provide robust evidence for the development of future proposals.