The RSPB is making hundreds of thousands of pounds from the wind power industry – despite the turbines killing millions of birds every year.
Golden eagles, hen harriers, Corn Buntings and other rare and threatened species are especially at risk, conservationists say.
Yet in its latest ‘partnership deal’, the bird charity receives £60 for every member who signs up to a dual-fuel account with windfarm developer Ecotricity.
It also receives £40 each time a customer opens an account with Triodos Bank, which finances renewable industry projects including wind turbines.
In a previous partnership with Southern & Scottish Electricity (SSE), which invests in wind and other renewable energy, the RSPB admits to having made £1 million over ten years.
The charity claims that windfarms play an important role in the battle against climate change, which ‘poses the single greatest long-term threat to birds and other wildlife’, and that wind turbines caused only ‘significant detrimental effects’ when poorly sited.
But critics argue there is no such thing as a well-sited windfarm and that the charity has been taken over by green zealots.
Conservationist Mark Duchamp, whose international charity Save The Eagles monitors bird deaths caused by wind farms, said: ‘The fact that such an organisation [the RSPB] is not taking this problem seriously is scandalous.
‘They are supposed to protect birds. Instead they are advocating on behalf of an industry which kills birds. What could be more wrong and absurd than that?’
Dr John Etherington, former reader in ecology at the University of Wales and author of The Wind Farm Scam, said: ‘It seems to me that for some time now a green faction has penetrated a whole range of bodies and that the RSPB is one of them.
‘For an organisation that supposedly protects birds to team up with an industry that kills birds on the basis of unverifiable predictive models about climate change is just bizarre.
‘We are many years into discovering that these bloody machines kill birds in large numbers. Why is the RSPB still sticking up for them?’
Some members have complained that the RSPB isn’t nearly as active as it ought to be in fighting turbine applications – even in sites of ornithological value.
‘Instead of giving the turbine people hell, they usually end up giving them the green light,’ said Peter Shrubb, an RSPB member of 30 years, who is particularly appalled by the organisation’s plans to erect a 330ft turbine at its own headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire.
As an example of the danger, two hen harriers were killed by turbine blades in April last year at the Griffin windfarm at Aberfeldy in Scotland, run by the RSPB’s former partner SSE.
The charity waited eight months to announce the news but made no criticism of its former partner. Instead it said: ‘It is important to remember that climate change still poses one of the biggest threats to birds and other wildlife.’
It added that ‘windfarm collisions . . . remain very rare indeed’.
BUT according to research by the ornithological society SEO/Birdlife, each wind turbine kills between 110 and 330 birds a year.
This means that worldwide, wind turbines kill at least 22 million birds a year.
The RSPB has disputed these figures, insisting: ‘Our own research suggests that a well-located wind farm is unlikely to be causing birds any harm.’
A spokesman for Ecotricity said that at one of its test sites near the Bristol Channel, the turbines had killed no more than four birds in five years.
Conservationists claim the wind industry has a vested interest in covering up the true extent of bird deaths.
Wildlife biologist Jim Wiegand recently wrote that the industry has known since the early Eighties that ‘propeller-style turbines’ could never be safe for birds of prey.
Mr Wiegand added: ‘With exposed blade tips spinning in open space at up to 200mph, it was impossible. Wind developers also knew they would have a public-relations nightmare if people ever learned how many eagles are actually being cut in half.
‘To hide this awful truth, strict windfarm operating guidelines were established – including high security, gag orders in leases and other agreements, and the prevention of accurate, meaningful mortality studies.’
Anecdotal evidence from the US and Australia also suggests that windfarm operators often hide the bodies of dead birds in order to avoid being fined.
Another trick, described by Wiegand, is for windfarm developers to confine their searches to limited areas directly below the wind turbines – leading to official body counts that grossly underestimate the true extent of bird mortality.
‘Wind turbines are always going to kill a disproportionately high number of birds of prey because they tend to be built in areas – uplands, mainly – where the best thermals are: in other words where the birds hover, perch and feed,’ said ecologist Clive Hambler, lecturer in biological and human sciences at Hertford College, Oxford.
The RSPB has objected to only six per cent of all new windfarm developments. But the charity’s conservation director Martin Harper claims it will always fight windfarm developments where birds are particularly threatened.
Henry Thoresby, an ornithologist who has fought several turbine applications, said that in his experience the RSPB is far too quick to withdraw its objections.
‘There was one proposal on the Dengie Peninsula in Essex which they really should have fought hard – a very important wilderness area with large flocks of golden plover.
‘But when it went to judicial review, they refused to help and the local bird group were left to fight on their own.
‘It’s a strange organisation. My suspicion is that they’re less interested in birds than global warming.’
Another disappointed member is Terry O’Connor, a retired panel-beater, who for 30 years has watched migratory birds such as Brent geese and Bewick’s swans near his home in Silloth, Cumbria.
When Npower applied to build four wind turbines in the middle of the route, birdwatchers begged the local RSPB area representative for help.
At first the RSPB was supportive and planners rejected the application. But when the developer appealed, the RSPB mysteriously withdrew its objection and the turbines were built.
Mr O’Connor said: ‘The developers came up with some cock-and-bull plan about how they were going to pay farmers to feed the geese to lure them away from the turbines.
‘But to anyone who knows anything about bird behaviour this is a nonsense.
‘Now the turbines are up and of course the birds haven’t changed their flightpath. Locally we all feel utterly betrayed by the RSPB. They should never have let this happen.’
A spokesman for the RSPB denied that this was a result of a cosy relationship with the wind industry. He said: ‘We will always fight cases where windfarms are poorly sited.’
RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: ‘We are not just there to protect. We are a conservation body and our belief is that climate change is the biggest threat facing wildlife today.’
He added that a 2004 study, published in Nature, said that 15 to 37 per cent of species were ‘committed to extinction’ by 2050 unless immediate action was taken to tackle climate change.
A further report produced for the RSPB in 2007 predicted that climate change would cause major disruption to birdlife.
However, Dr Etherington said: ‘These are projections based on old computer models which do not accord with observed reality.
‘I find it extraordinary, given the latest data confirming there has been no global warming since 1997, that the RSPB is still taking it seriously.’
The RSPB’s spokesman said: ‘If we’ve been hijacked by people for campaigning for the environment then it’s no different from what we’ve done for the past 124 years. Campaigning is what we do.’
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