March 12th   Leave a comment

There were a lot of gannets passing today – some very close in. John has a spectacular photo of one diving from a couple of days ago (when the sun was shining…).

Gannet diving

I was asked by Peter Salkeld today as to my thoughts on whether a wind turbine on Fife Ness would affect birds. Well that depends on where the turbines might go, but if, for example, there was a turbine at Kilminning as was proposed recently, I don’t think there would necessarily be a big problem. Overall the site is an area of poor scrub woodland, hard standing and grass, which is of low biodiversity value. This reflects its current and historic use. It is however of relatively good biodiversity value compared to the intensive farmland surrounding it on the landward side, and has the potential to be much improved as an area for biodiversity with sympathetic environmental management. In my opinion, location of a wind turbine on the site would not further degrade the site’s biodiversity value (access infrastructure is already present) and much of the site is tarmac or “urban” grassland. In contrast, if the turbine location is coupled with environmental improvements such as reduction of hard standing and tree planting then the site is likely to be greatly improved for biodiversity. This is really key – if we can combine siting turbines with improving the habitat then biodiversity might actually improve .

There is one very important consideration however. During autumn (very occasionally spring) migration periods, particularly during sustained easterly winds in the period of late August to mid-November, Kilminning acts as an important area for passerine migrant birds. These use the scrub woodland at the site for feeding or shelter for short periods before resuming their migration. In any one year there might be 10-15 days where there are significant populations of migrants at the site (i.e. tens of birds of a variety of species). On about 3-5 days a year (sometimes more) when we have heavy rain or fog coincident with sustained easterly winds there may be falls of thousands of passerines and the site may have thousands of birds (usually redwings and blackbirds) using the site during the course of a day. Once on the site and in daylight a turbine will present no problem to these birds, but their arrival is often during the night and in disorientating weather conditions and so a turbine may present a collision risk. Lighting of a turbine would likely increase the problem as nocturnal migrants are often attracted to lights. Whether any problem would arise from a relatively small, unlit turbine, is not certain, however, there have been few studies of this. But in light of the precautionary principle, it would make sense to locate the turbine (i) as far away from the shore as possible, (ii) provide increased tree and scrub cover closer to the shore and (iii) to avoid lighting the turbine in any way, or light a safe area well away from the turbine to draw migrants away from the turbine at key times.

But overall I don’t think turbines sited on any already degraded land or farmland of low biodiversity around Crail are a problem for birds, only for the views. Global warming in the long run will be a much bigger problem on bird populations, particularly migrant birds, than wind turbines (when sited away from sensitive areas and species). And we won’t be able to undo global warming as easily as taking down wind turbines in the future.

Away from the serious; I saw my first lesser black-backed gull of the summer today. They are one of our earliest summer migrants. Although they are common in the winter in southern England, our lesser black-backs disappear completely during the winter. They may winter as far south as Tunisia or Morocco. They might not be swallows, but they cheered me up on this cold and sleety day because at least something is convinced that spring is on the way.

Lesser black-backed gull

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Posted March 12, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

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