Save the planet or preserve the planet? It is this dilemma which has caused so much consternation among environmental groups.
For many green groups, wind farms are an embodiment of a necessary evil. We must reduce our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, and wind energy is a clean alternative ““ seen by many as preferable to nuclear power, with its questionable safety reputation and problems with waste disposal.
However, there is no doubting that some of the best sites for wind farms ““ windswept moorland, remote rural areas ““ are also some of the most ecological fragile.
Here wildlife, including some of Scotland’s most threatened species, can have a tentative hold on life. Place a wind farm in its midst and the environmental balance could be affected.
Both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are in favour of wind farms, but in the right place at the right time.
Stuart Hay, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “We are generally supportive of wind turbines as part of the energy mix, and it is critical that we exploit them. So long as they steer clear of areas of significance or too close to housing then, by and large, we are for them. People forget that the Scottish landscape is essentially an unnatural landscape with housing and pylons. When hydro-electric projects were first introduced, people were unhappy, but they have become an accepted part of the landscape.”
However, all is not united in the pressure groups. Among the most vocal in opposition to specific wind farm projects has been the RSPB. Although not against all wind farms in principle, the society has made a consistent case for their potential effect on endangered bird life. Right in the front line has been one of the most high-profile wind farm projects.
The 25-mile long development proposed by Lewis Wind Power has split the local community, but also environmental groups, with the RSPB worried about the effect on the bird population.
The charity says that, according to the developer’s own environmental assessment, the impact would mean dozens of golden eagles, merlin and red-throated divers lost to collision with turbines; while hundreds of pairs of dunlin and golden plover would be lost or displaced because of habitat loss.
Clifton Bain, climate change policy officer for the RSPB, says: “Although the majority are not a threat to bird sites, there are a few companies which persist in trying to locate turbines in these places. The proposed wind farm on Lewis, for example, takes in one
of the most interesting and important wildlife sites in the world. There are several ways in which birds can be harmed by turbines, including collisions ““ when birds of prey collide with the spinning turbines, particularly in bad weather. Each turbine has an area of concrete beneath it which can destroy habitat underneath. This means there is a reduction in nesting sites.
Bain adds: “We encourage the development of renewable energy because we see climate change as the biggest threat to our environment, to wildlife and to ourselves. On the other side, we become involved when there are planning applications for wind farms which are located in areas where there is a high concentration of really important bird species. Strategically, we are trying to get the government to recognise that there is plenty of space where wind farms can be sited that will not interfere with important wildlife.”
By Marisa Duffy
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