EU moves to protect wildlife from wind turbines

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This article is part of our special report Wind Energy.

The European Commission has issued guidelines on how to design wind farms so that they do not disturb birds and bats living in the EU's 'Natura 2000' network of protected sites.

The new guidelines on wind power development were published last week (29 October) with the aim of ensuring that wind farms do not have a negative impact on vulnerable species and habitats in the ecological network of nearly 26,000 protected sites.

They give guidance to authorities and developers to ensure that new wind projects do not run contrary to the EU's Habitats and Birds Directives.

"If planned properly, modern wind energy activities can not only avoid impacting on wildlife but can also on occasion actively contribute to biodiversity conservation," the paper states. This is particularly the case when a wind development project is located in a natural environment that has already been modified, it argues.

But the Commission adds that there is a need for a case-by-case assessment of projects. This is because the impacts of erecting wind turbines in a specific natural environment depend greatly on the native wildlife as well as the design of the wind farm.

The guidelines try to reconcile two of the EU's environmental goals of increasing the share of renewable energies to 20% of its energy mix by 2020 and halting biodiversity loss.

The draft lists potential impacts on birds and habitats for developers to look out for, including the risk of birds and bats colliding with wind turbines, habitat loss or wind farms forcing animals to change direction during migration and normal foraging activities.

The guidelines argue that "most threats can be minimised by avoiding sites with sensitive habitats and key populations of vulnerable species".

The Commission urges member states to develop wildlife sensitivity maps to identify areas where wind farms can be developed at minimal risk to the environment.

At project level, each site should first be screened to determine whether the wind project is likely to have a significant effect on the area. Where this is the case, a further assessment is required before it can be authorised, according to the guidelines.

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) argued that wind farm developers already have to undertake an environmental impact assessment before giving construction the green light.

"Overall, wind power's impact on birds, bats, other wildlife and natural habitats is extremely low compared with many other human-related activities," it said in a statement.

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