Wind turbines & wildlife
During a postdoctoral position working with Kirsty Park at Stirling University (2010-2012), and a following university fellowship position (2013-15), I worked on several projects aiming to assess the effects of small wind turbines (SWTs) on birds and bats, as well as related work on similar effects at larger wind farm sites.
The overall aim of this work is to provide an evidence base for the effects of SWTs specifically. Although adverse effects (through disturbance and collision mortality) of industrial-size wind turbines and wind farms on wildlife are relatively well-studied, until we stared this work it was unknown whether similar issues exist with SWTs. SWTs, also sometimes referred to as micro-turbines or domestic turbines come in a range of sizes, but for most of our work we focused on those units between 6-25m hub height. They are typically installed in a much wider range of habitats and settings compared to their wind farm equivalents (which are usually installed in relatively open habitats only) which caused some concern about possible impacts on a wider (or certainly different) range of species. Moreover, the planning- and licensing frameworks for their construction and siting is quite different form larger wind farms, which can cause uncertain and highly variable consenting decisions.
The real strength of this work is that is combines a range of different strands, ranging from ecological fieldwork and impact assessment, to public attitude studies, policy and management engagement and modelling. By doing so, it has built up to a comprehensive understanding of not just the effects of wind turbines on birds and bats, but also of how this can and should be used in decision making and survey planning. This work has had demonstrable impact, for example through incorporation in the EUROBATS Guidelines for consideration of bats in wind farm projects.
Our work comprised of a number of different research strands, summarised below.
Quantifying disturbance/displacement of birds and bats at SWTs.
Using a field experiment in which we manipulated SWT operating independent of wind speed, we showed that bird activity is similar in two distance bands surrounding a sample of SWTs (between 6–18 m hub height) and is not affected by SWT operation at the fine scale studied. Bat activity, on the other hand, was significantly reduced at short (0-5m) distances from operating SWTs but this effect was dimished at greater distances (20-25m) from the SWT.
Further work on a larger (landscape) scale showed that when multiple SWTs are installed, adverse effects on bats may extend further than when single SWTs are installed, hightlighting the need to carefully consider the installation of multiple units in the same site.
Quantifying mortality at SWTs.
In further follow-up studies, we combined field data and owner questionnaires to estimate the range and correlates of collision mortality at SWTs. Using a model that accounts for a range of observation uncertainty (e.g. variation in visit frequency, search effciency and scavenger removal) we estimated that between 1567-5510 birds and 1610-3363 bats may be killed through collisions with SWTs across the UK (based on total number of SWTs installed in the UK at the time).
An analysis of the planning process for SWTs.
Using the database of SWT owners and planning officers we amassed during this project, we assessed the planning process for SWT siting in the UK, and showed that as expected the planning process for SWTs varies widely among local authorities. We identified as particularly problematic the lack of ecological evidence of likely effects on wildlife in different contexts, highlighting the need for better planning guidance in this regard.
4. Assesing the statistical power of breeding bird survey designs at wind farm sites.
In this separate project funded by the Scottish Government (Scottish Windfarm Bird Steering Group), we designed a model to simulate breeding bird populations, surveys of such populations, and potential adverse effects of subsequent wind farm developments. Using this model allowed us to assess the statistical power of different survey designs to actually detect different levels of population decline following wind farm developments. The results suggested that given commonly used survey set ups, pre- and post-installation surveys are unlikely to detect any breeding bird declines unless these are extremely substantial.
Selected relevant publications:
- Minderman J, Gillis MH, Daly HF, & Park KJ (2017). Landscape-scale effects of single- and multiple small wind turbines on bat activity. Animal Conservation, 20(5), 455–462. doi:10.1111/acv.12331
- Tatchley C, Paton H, Robertson E, Minderman J, Hanley N & Park KJ. (2016). Drivers of Public Attitudes towards Small Wind Turbines in the UK. PLOS ONE, 11(3), e0152033. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152033
- Rodrigues L, Bach L, Dubourg-Savage M-J, Karapandža B, Kovač D, Kervyn T, Dekker J, Kepel A, Bach P, Collins J, Harbusch C, Park KJ, Micevski B, Minderman J. (2015). Guidelines for consideration of bats in wind farm projects: revision 2014. Bonn: UNEP/EUROBATS.
- Minderman J, Fuentes-Montemayor E, Pearce-Higgins JW, Pendlebury CJ, & Park KJ (2014). Estimates and correlates of bird and bat mortality at small wind turbine sites. Biodiversity and Conservation, 24(3), 467–482. doi:10.1007/s10531-014-0826-z
- Park KJ, Turner A, & Minderman J (2013). Integrating applied ecology and planning policy: the case of micro-turbines and wildlife conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology, 50(1), 199–204. doi:10.1111/jpe.12005
- Minderman J, Pendlebury CJ, Pearce-Higgins JW & Park KJ (2012). Experimental evidence for the effect of small wind turbine proximity and operation on bird and bat activity. PLoS ONE, 7(7), e41177. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041177