The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have dropped the majority of its objections to wind farms in the UK on the back of new research it has commissioned.
However, wind farms may still threaten wildlife in certain habitats, the group maintains. But the research, conducted by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) removes a significant objection to wind farms by the green lobby.
Director of the IEEP, David Baldock, said: “The development of renewable energy in Britain has to accelerate greatly if new binding targets are to be met. This means that the planning system must facilitate a step change in the construction of wind power.
“The best experience elsewhere shows that this is possible. Damage to birds and other wildlife can be minimised by a strong or proactive approach – guiding turbines to the right sites. Good planning can facilitate development appropriate for the long term,” he said.
The research made the following recommendations:
- The planning system should take a strategic approach, identifying both those areas where new turbines are given priority, and those where they are most likely to conflict with wildlife.
- This should be informed by clear and detailed information about which areas are of most concern to conservationists. Bird sensitivity maps are already used to guide developments in Scotland.
- The Government should provide strong leadership to tackle the lack of specialist know-how in local authorities, set local targets for wind turbines and make sure planning decisions take account of the fact wind power is a national priority.
- There should be an expectation that developers and other interested parties discuss proposed developments before planning applications are submitted to reduce conflict.
- More ways for communities to benefit from the wind farms on their doorstep should be promoted to win public support. This could be through direct ownership of the turbines, reduced bills, improvements to the local environment or money for local facilities.
The report now goes a step further, and urges the government to “step in to ensure better and quicker decisions on wind farms, while protecting wildlife and winning the backing of local communities.”
Comparing the UK with other EU countries, the IEEP found that wind turbines met just less than 2% of the UK’s electricity demands in 2007, making the UK thirteenth in a league table of wind power per head of population, trailing behind Estonia and only just ahead of Belgium.
At the top were Germany, where wind met 15% of demand, Spain, where it accounted for 20%, and Denmark, where it met 29% of demand.
Head of Climate Change Policy at the RSPB, Ruth Davis, said: “The need for renewable energy could not be more urgent. Left unchecked, climate change threatens many species with extinction. Yet, that sense of urgency is not translating into action on the ground to harness the abundant wind energy around us.
“The solutions are largely common sense. We need a clear lead from government on where wind farms should be built and clear guidance for local councils on how to deal with applications. We must reduce the many needless delays that beset wind farm developments.
“This report shows that if we get it right, the UK can produce huge amounts of clean energy without time-consuming conflicts and harm to our wildlife. Get it wrong and people may reject wind power. That would be disastrous,” she said.