Concern over eagle kills in Norway -- Discovery by British bird group

The discovery of four mangled white tailed eagles over a four month period at Norway's largest wind power station at Smøla is causing international concern among bird protection groups worried about future wind power development and the fate of sensitive bird populations. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), an influential and politically powerful organisation, discovered the dead eagles at Smøla during the autumn. Smøla is an island 16 kilometres off the Norwegian coast. RSPB researchers also noted that 30 pairs of white-tailed eagles failed to return to their nesting grounds near the wind farm, made up of 68 turbines spread out on the sparsely inhabited island.

"Breeding results on Smøla have been strikingly poor compared with the 30 years before the wind farm was built, both on the site itself and the remainder of the island," according to Alv Ottar Folkestad, a researcher for BirdLife's NOF Norwegian branch. BirdLife protested the building of Smøla to the Bern Convention but was not successful in stopping development of the site by Norwegian utility Statkraft. "Of course we're concerned about it. The white-tailed eagle is a wildlife species we are concerned about, it's a symbolic bird," says Statkraft's Knut Fjerdingstad.

Press reports of the eagle deaths have been circulating in the UK, where environmental groups are concerned that wind development plans will put large birds like the white tailed eagle at great risk. White tailed eagles became extinct in England in the last century and were carefully reintroduced into seemingly remote areas.

Cathy Harris at the RSPB says the main suggestion offered to forestall bird deaths is for the UK to map out areas where wind development is best-suited and not a danger to existing bird populations. RSPB is particularly protesting plans for a 234 turbine wind farm on the Scottish island of Lewis because of its proximity to eagle nesting sites.

Tourist activity

The wind farm at Smøla is due for expansions. Bird researchers have speculated that as eagles are loyal to nests, as well as particularly sensitive to site upheaval during development, they might return to nests once activity levels decrease. But tourist activity to Smøla has also increased since the opening of the wind farms, with the ferry service growing by 20% and overnight guest visits also increasing, according to the local government.

Statkraft's Fjerdingstad says the company is working on two initiatives to protect Smøla's eagles. Engineers at the company are experimenting with radar that might detect from which direction eagles fly into the turbines' path, and trying different warning sounds to discourage them. He says that an effort to bury the electricity cables on the island that have previously been a cause of eagle death will also help.

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