Positive results from bird studies

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Lowland birds are not unduly bothered by wind farms, say ecologists from Newcastle University in the UK. Aware of increasing numbers of wind turbines planned for agricultural land, they have published a study in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology which helps refute a common accusation levelled by opponents of wind farm projects that birds suffer from their development.

Bird surveys conducted within 750 metres of two wind farms in the East Anglian fens recorded almost 3000 birds from 23 different species, including five on the "red-list" of endangered birds -- the yellowhammer, tree sparrow, corn bunting, skylark and common reed bunting. The turbines had no effect on seed-eating birds, corvids (crow family), game birds and skylarks. Larger and slower pheasants were the only birds whose distribution was affected by the turbines.

"This is the first evidence suggesting that the present and future location of large numbers of wind turbines on European farmland is unlikely to have detrimental effects on farmland birds," says Mark Whittingham, who led the research team.

Previous studies into the effects of turbines have concentrated on geese, waders and birds of prey which predominate in coastal areas and uplands, says Whittingham. "There is increasing conservation concern about the impact of wind farms on these species in these areas, so applications to build new turbines are increasingly focusing on other sites, especially lowland farmland in central and eastern England." The study was conducted during the winter and the researchers recommend further studies during the breeding season.

Meanwhile in Denmark, research by Danmarks Miljøundersøgelser (DMU), an environmental agency, reveals that human activity is more likely to disturb birds than wind turbines. DMU says that after eight to ten years, the pink footed goose, known for being particularly shy, become so familiar with wind turbines that it flew and foraged between them. On the other hand, if just seven people a day used a path near the habitat of the black tailed godwit, the number of nesting birds was reduced within a radius of 500 metres. The birds did not become accustomed to people nearby.

DMU has studied bird life over eight to ten years at three wind plant in north-west Jutland. Researchers say that safety distance to the turbines maintained by the geese was halved during that period. "It is a positive example of how birds can adapt to changes in the ecology. We can imagine that other species can and will do the same as the pink footed goose," says research leader Jesper Madsen from DMU.

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