RSPB EXECUTIVES ARE CAUSING SEVERE HARM TO BIRD LIFE
DE FACTO HELPING WINDFARM DEVELOPERS GET AWAY WITH THE SLAUGHTER OF RARE BIRDS
The bird society´s publicised policy is to support windpower, and make sure windfarms are "carefully sited". Reality shows, however, that they only implement its first tenet.
For years, critics have been trying to warn the public that a conflict of interest had inverted priorities within the charity. Evidence of this perversion has been accumulating over the years, but the prestige of the RSPB is such that most people preferred to ignore it. - Until RSPB management went over the top...
1) THE PERFECT BIRD TRAP
While appearing to move slowly, turbine blades travel at speeds of 150 to 300 kmh at the tip, depending on wind speed (1). They also travel on an orbit; thus a bird about to fly through them may see one blade moving away but won´t always see the next one coming. Adding adverse conditions such as wind, fog, or darkness, it is easy to understand why the turbines were dubbed "Cuisinarts of the air" by the Sierra Club (2).
Picture : the perfect bird trap - an appearence of slowness, but up to 300 kph at the tip of the blades.
2) CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
The pro-windfarm policy of the RSPB is vital to that controversial industry. Without it, British public opinion might not tolerate the erection, over its beloved countryside, of contraptions that will be killing 200,000 – 500,000 birds a year, many of them belonging to rare species, (1) for the production of unreliable quantities of intermittent, erratic, and uncontrollable electricity.
To ease the concern of bird-lovers, RSPB´s top management ( hereinafter : RSPB MGT ) consistently played down the risk to our feathered friends. When I started my investigation five years ago, their position was that windfarms were only killing significant numbers of birds at two foreign locations : Altamont Pass (California), and Tarifa (Spain). These were unfortunate exceptions, they kept saying, of badly-sited windfarms.
Yet a little research into the subject showed that there was an abundance of scientific studies proving the contrary. I published an article in which I cited the studies in question (1). I also criticised RSPB MGT in ornithology forums in the hope they would rectify.
I was soon opposed, on these forums, by ornithologists defending windpower interests. I was even banned from some of these discussion groups, whose policy it was to kill the messenger. This made me realise that many of the most senior ornithologists worked under contract for windfarm developers, or for pro-windfarm quangos :
1) to monitor existing windfarms.
2) to write pre-construction impact assessments ( that normally "predict" low bird mortality and get the project approved ).
3) to conduct other studies on the subject of birds and windfarms.
And as was to be expected, the most successful at landing such contracts were those who consistently found that windfarms killed very few birds.
The conflict of interest was evident, and I became all the more concerned for the welfare of bird life - of rare species in particular.
In the course of my investigations, I came across the "RSPB Energy" webpage, where I learned that the charity was making money from the promotion of renewable energy. Their business partner is Scottish & Southern Energy . That was a second, and quite obvious, conflict of interest.
Another bird lover, and ex RSPB member, became interested in the RSPB´s investments : did they include shares of Scottish & Southern Energy ? or stock in other companies with windpower interests ? - But RSPB MGT do not publish the detail of their investment portfolio. Neither do they name the beneficiaries of the scores of subventions they hand out yearly. Transparency is not their forte.
3) EDINBANE and BEN AKETIL
The Isle of Skye is a natural jewel, and a haven for bird life. If it were not for the young eagles that are fledged here and in other Hebridean islands each year, mainland Scotland would be unable to maintain its eagle population. (3) and (4)
Edinbane and Ben Aketil are two windfarm projects targeting this island. What is worse : the hills selected by the developers are visited daily by young eagles. These may come from anywhere in Scotland, and even England, as young eagles roam the country for years before settling down.
The Altamont Pass windfarm, in California, is also located in such a "dispersion area" for young eagles : its numerous wind turbines killed 2,300 eagles over 20 years (5). Ornithologists Dr. S. Smallwood and C. Thelander, who performed the most complete studies of that infamous windfarm, concluded that the deaths were not imputable to the lattice-type, old model turbines : tubular ones killed even more birds(6). This is logical, as they are bigger and sweep larger areas.
They also warned that any windfarm erected where raptors fly would be deadly to them. There was nothing particular to Altamont, except for the large number of turbines and the abundance of raptors (7). Besides, it was found that eagles and other raptors were attracted by the wind turbines (8).
With this scientifically gathered evidence, corroborated by the news of eagle strikes at windfarms elsewhere in the world, it was obvious that these two projects located in an eagle dispersion area on the Isle of Skye would act as ecological traps for the Scottish eagles - and become a direct threat to their sustainability .
As things now stand, golden eagles in Scotland are in "demographic difficulty" (4). Any additional mortality will send their population into decline. And additional mortality repeated year after year for several decades may cause the extinction of the species in the UK. There are, after all, only 443 pairs left.
Yet RSPB MGT failed to strongly oppose these two ill-sited project - i.e. as they did for Lewis : press releases, articles on their web site, complaint to the European Commission, redaction of a petition and collection of signatures, direct lobbying of the politicians involved, etc.
Instead, they were content with sending routine objections to the decision makers - and of course that failed to convince them.
This lack of concern for stridently ill-sited windfarms was also shown in the routine, inefficient handling of other eagle-killer projects such as Pentland Road, Eishken, Pairc, and recently Allt Dearg.
It would have been possible to kill these projects in the bud long before they reached the planning stage. RSPB MGT showed us how this could be done : the Glen Tarken project was abandoned by the developer at or before the scoping stage, after talks with the RSPB.
Glen Tarken vindicated my claim, aired many times on ornithology forums, that developers and politicians will easily cancel their plans if the RSPB uses its clout right from the beginning, before developers spend millions of pounds preparing an application, commissioning an environmental statement, putting together the financing - and before councillors pre-spend the rent, and the community fund money, in electoral promises.
4) THE CASE OF THE LEWIS WIND PROJECT
RSPB MGT also failed to oppose, at the scoping stage, the huge windfarm project targeting the Lewis peatlands SPA ( and Ramsar area ). They had no excuse for letting such a scandalous project run its course through the planning system.
As with other ill-sited projects, they presented "in due course" a less-than-robust objection that was not opposing the project in principle. This sort of objection is then used later to fend-off criticisms : but... we do fight ill-sited windfarms : we have objected to 76 windfarm applications !
Washing their hands is what RSPB MGT do best.
This disingenuous policy, hurting as it does important bird interests all over Scotland, prompted me to write "Red Energy", a paper criticising their laxist approach . (9) It was published on 27/12/2003, and the UK press was advised.
Coincidence or not, within a week after the publication of my paper, RSPB Scotland launched a well-mediatised lobbying campaign against the Lewis Wind project. This move refurbished their image at a minimal cost : the sacrifice of just one of numerous ill-sited projects. For the rest of the 500 windfarm applications in the Scottish pipeline, it was business as usual.
What is more, the sacrifice was later compensated by the RSPB supporting another mega-project, ill-sited in a migration hot spot : the Shetlands. And if the Lewis Wind project is upheld in the end, the developers will have gained the Shetlands in the bargain.
Thus, by opposing Lewis Wind, RSPB MGT have effectively saved dozens of ill-sited windfarm projects from being scuttled in the face of mounting criticism, while refurbishing their tarnished reputation.
The anti-Lewis RSPB campaign turned out to be an excellent operation for the wind industry and their Scottish politician friends. And it is a disaster for European/African biodiversity ( some birds, like the osprey, migrate all the way to Africa and back ).
If you are not convinced, yet, of RSPB MGT´s duplicity, then consider the rest of the evidence, as follows.
5) GROUSE POPULATIONS
As I was investigating the Edinbane project, I came upon a letter that was not supposed to be made public, but which we obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. It was sent on April 25 2002 by Dr. Alison MacLennan, RSPB´s Senior Conservation Officer, Skye & Western Isles, to Simon Fraser, Area Planning Manager, Highland Council, Isle of Skye - Subject: the proposed AMEC windfarm at Edinbane.
On page 4, under "Wader and red grouse interest", we can read : "they (red grouse) have been known to collide with turbine structures and have shown population declines associated with windfarm developments elsewhere" (10)
This was a smoking gun. A senior RSPB field officer had admitted that windfarms had had a significant impact on red grouse populations. This contradicted the line we were getting from RSPB MGT, i.e. that windfarms were only a problem for birds abroad, specifically at Altamont and Tarifa.
- There are no grouse to be killed at these two locations, so they had to have been killed elsewhere : most probably in the UK .
RSPB MGT had been covering up the mortality of red grouse, as they had covered up the scientific reports I mentioned earlier.
I raised the issue on ornithology forums : it was met by an embarrassed silence. I then made a practice of raising the matter whenever opportune, copying RSPB MGT every time. - They did not reply. Obviously, as long as I did not make the headlines in the press, they wouldn´t budge.
Followed a number of bird-kills that were reported in the press :
First, there was the hacking of a red kite in Wales, then of another, and then of a swan. Later, we found out that the two wind turbines erected by Tesco next to its parking lot were chopping sea gulls under the noses of the customers. One of them was even stained with blood when a dead gull fell on his head. (18) - Difficult to cover that one up !
Finally came the story of the red kite hacked in Scotland, while money is being spent to reintroduce the species. On that occasion, the journalist reported : "It ( the RSPB ) confirmed that red grouse, pigeons, kestrels and buzzards had all died after colliding with giant turbine blades in Scotland despite the insistence of many windfarm advocates that birds can easily avoid them." (11)
So there it was : RSPB MGT had admitted at last ! Windfarms have been killing various species of birds in the UK, and prior assurances that birds avoided them were misrepresentations .
Their declaration was not without spin, however : "despite the insistence of many windfarm advocates that birds can easily avoid them ". - Weren´t RSPB MGT the ones who had claimed that all along ?
What is more, they still pretend that birds can easily avoid wind turbines : how else could they justify their supporting a project in the Shetlands, a migration hot spot, or at Allt Dearg , in an eagle dispersion area ? - Their duplicity is evident.
Note: they do not openly support Allt Dearg, but are willing to "deal" - more on that later ( see "to be continued" below ).
Having admitted of the bird-killer nature of wind turbines, it was back to the usual spin, as if nothing had happened : "The charity ... stressed that it considered the risk of wildlife colliding with wind turbines "very modest," although it acknowledged that it was impossible to monitor the impact of every scheme. "(11)
How could the risk be "very modest" when they had recognised before that grouse "have shown population declines associated with windfarm developments" ? If an eagle-prey species like the red grouse shows "population declines", the risk to bird life is not "very modest".
And how modest is the risk to eagles when impact assessments carried out by ornithologists paid by developers predict the death of 15 golden eagles at Edinbane, 3 at Ben Aketil, 9 at Eishken, 50 at Barvas, 66-165 at Pairc, etc. ? ... and when more realistic predictions run as high as 150 for Edinbane, 30 for Ben Aketil, and 100 for Eishken ?
Given that scores of windfarms are to be built in eagle breeding territories and in dispersion areas for young eagles, the impact will be more than severe : it is likely to be terminal for the species. As I said before there are only 443 pairs of golden eagles in the UK, known to be "in demographic difficulty" (4) - and no more than 33 of the white-tailed sea eagle, after 30 years of efforts to reintroduce the species in Scotland.
Picture : white-tailed sea eagle, Smola windfram, Norway. Four more eagles were killed in the past 12 months. But RSPB MGT is suppressing the information - Why ?
6) YET ANOTHER CONFLICT OF INTEREST
In another article about the third red kite victim we find this information :
"Last month, RSPB Scotland was awarded £48,500 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project to help reintroduce red kites to Aberdeenshire." (12)
The RSPB are reintroducing red kites in Scotland, as they did the sea eagles some 30 years ago. And they have now been asked to reintroduce sea eagles on the east coast.
You would think their management would have protested against the windfarms that killed these reintroduced red kites ? - Not in the least ! On the contrary : it is on this occasion that the charity reassured the public stressing that "it considered the risk of wildlife colliding with wind turbines "very modest". (11)
Yet the 3 red kites that were found are only the tip of the iceberg... In Germany, 69 of these birds were found, hacked by the turbine blades. Yet German windfarms are not being monitored for bird strikes ( with very few exceptions ). So, obviously many more deaths occur that are never reported, and scavengers take care of the carcasses.
Without being a cynic, what we have here is yet another conflict of interest . For if the eagles and other rare birds become near-extinct because of the windfarms, the RSPB will be asked to save those that are left, and to reintroduce the species where they have disappeared.
They may also be called upon for habitat management and other such projects aimed at restoring bird life.
Another consideration is that bequests and donations would logically increase as bird life becomes more endangered .
Windfarms are thus a win-win situation for the charity.
I do not wish to offend anyone when I say this, but it is a fact. And facts must be faced if we are to maintain a healthy bird life. If biodiversity is to be saved, it is necessary to denounce each and every conflict of interest that is presently working against it.
7) RSPB FORCED TO DISCLOSE EAGLE COLLISIONS AT SMOLA
In 2005, an anti-windfarm campaigner from Lewis received an email from Norway enclosing a local press article : a sea eagle had been found, killed by a turbine at the Smola windfarm. I immediately raised the matter on ornithology forums, and this prompted Norwegian ornithologists to release more eagle mortality data. At first we had eleven eagle deaths, including those from the Smola power lines. Then it came down to four for the turbines alone, and "about 30 other white-tailed eagles failed to return to nesting sites within the wind farm area. (13).
Five months later, we had a total of 9 sea eagles killed in 10 months by the Smola turbines.. (14)
The scandal was too great to be ignored : RSPB MGT had to disclose the news to the UK media. But their declarations rapidly evolved, from concern to the usual PR humbug. To wit :
- CONCERN- January 2006 : "... Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "If white-tailed eagles have died because of wind-turbine collisions, there are major implications for our own eagle populations in Scotland." (13)
- USUAL EXCUSE - June 2006 : ..."RSPB conservation director Mark Avery told BBC News ... the Smola wind farm had been badly sited in a place where it put white-tailed eagles at risk. (14)
- BURYING THE INCIDENT - June 2006..."(the RSPB) is urging developers and governments to take the potential impact on wildlife such as eagles properly into consideration when planning new wind farms in future." (14)
We are back to the usual double-talk, despite the fact that Smola´s "very important" sea eagle colony " has been practically wiped out" - in Mark Avery´s very own words (14). RSPB MGT have not stepped up their opposition to windfarms sited where white-tailed eagles fly in Scotland : e.g. Eishken, Pairc, Edinbane, Ben Aketil, etc.
8) MAKING A DEAL, AND SUPPRESSING INFORMATION
From another article on the same day, June 23 2006 :"... the RSPB said it is backing a new four year study at the site by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) at the site to assess the effects of turbines on swans and wading birds such as golden plover, dunlin and whimbrel, and on the ability of white tailed eagles to adapt to the wind farm. (15)
In other words : ornithologists will be personally benefitting from the windfarm. For them, this study is a juicy plum : few in the profession ever land four-year contracts. This way, the windfarm operator can rest assured they won´t demand the decommissioning of this ecological trap.
The RSPB, we were told, is actively involved in the monitoring of Smola : "Research by the RSPB, the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and the Norwegian Sea Eagle Project will now be stepped up to include regular checks for casualties throughout the wind park, and monitoring of breeding activity". (16)
So one could reasonably expect that RSPB MGT would be keeping the UK public informed of what is happening at Smola. Didn´t Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, say in January 2006 "If white-tailed eagles have died because of wind-turbine collisions, there are major implications for our own eagle populations in Scotland" ?(13)
But the opposite has been happening : it looks like RSPB MGT has been suppressing all information they obtained from Smola in the past 12 months.
In June 2007, I made an inquiry on ornithology forums. I asked : has Smola stopped killing eagles? - A Norwegian ornithologist researched the subject and found that 4 more sea eagles had been killed since June 2006 (17). Yet RSPB MGT hadn´t said a word about it , that I know of, to the ornithological community - let alone to their members and to the public.
It also looks like, defiantly, they are still withholding the news from the UK media to this day.
Logically, they would publicise these deaths if they were really opposing windfarms where Scottish sea eagles fly , at the very least in the Hebrides ( mainly the islands of Lewis, Skye, and Mull ).
If RSPB MGT wanted to help developers erect their windfarms where rare sea eagles fly in Scotland, they wouldn´t act differently.
Picture : golden eagle, Altamont Pass windfarm. Over 20 years, 2,300 of them have been killed by the turbines, as well as 10,000 other raptors and 50,000 smaller birds, as estimated by Dr S. Smallwood & K. Thelander, in their study published in 2006 (5)
UPDATE, Nov 7th 2008 : the number of white-tailed sea eagles killed at the Smola windfarm is now 20, but RSPB and Norwegian ornithologists involved in the monitoring keep silent about it. It is likely that their monitoring contrat prevents them to speak, as these normally include a clause to that effect. Cynics would say their silence has been bought for 4 years with this contract, which is likely to be worth in excess of 1 million euros.
That the RSPB would tolerate this is indicative of their list of priorities, where bird conservation is no longer on top - unless one believes their argument that :
- 1) global warming - or is it now global cooling ? - will kill more birds than the windfarms and their associated HT power lines - yet birds survived higher temperatures and even ice ages in the past, whereas many species may not survive 1 million wind turbines to be built across the world...
- 2) man-made CO2 is the cause of this so-called climate change - yet it has been demonstrated by independent scientists ( from the NIPCC and others ) that solar radiation, cycles in sea currents, and water vapour ( cloud formation ) are far more important drivers of climate than CO2...
- 3) windfarms are actually helping reduce CO2 emissions - yet evidence from Germany, Denmark and Spain, the most "turbinised" countries ( per capita ) in the world, show that CO2 emissions keep rising in spite of the large number of windfarms. This is explained by the intermittency and variability of wind, and the requirement that windfarms be backed-up 24/7 by spinning fossil fuel power plants, emitting more CO2 in the process. More information on this by Dr Etherington, here : www.iberica2000.org/Es/Articulo.asp?Id=2950
And to those who would whitewash the RSPB with the contract clause imposing silence on eagle mortality at Smola : there is no contract clause preventing them to tell their members, and the public, that the number of white-tailed sea eagles killed by windfarms in Germany rose to 32 as at October 2008 ( just those that were reported to the authorities ). Ditto with the critically-endangered Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle : 20 of them killed to date at the Woolnorth windfarm, the last two under the eyes of the ornithologists in charge of turning off the turbines when eagles are approaching !
And again the RSPB kept silent about the 12 eagles killed by wind turbines on the Gotland island in Sweden ( this news came out this summer ), and on those killed by windfarms in Japan, etc. And of course, as I keep repeating, this is just the tip of the iceberg of eagle mortality at windfarms. Most kills are never reported, and not just because eagle talons, feathers and skulls are worth money on the black market.
Evidence of these kills is available upon request ( 13 is the figure now for white-tailed sea eagles in Japan ).
See also : Windfarms to wipe out Scottish eagles
Mark Duchamp...................................................August 9h, 2007
Other articles by the same author :
The negative effects of windfarms: links to papers published by Mark Duchamp
Photos of birds killed by wind turbines, of soil and water contamination by wind turbines, of turbines on fire, etc.
(1) Chilling Statistics
Look for section entitled: PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS ON AVIAN MORTALITY
(2) Article in USA Today, May 1998 - available upon request. Write to : firstname.lastname@example.org
(3) A CONSERVATION FRAMEWORK FOR THE GOLDEN EAGLE IN SCOTLAND - REFINING CONDITION TARGETS AND ASSESSMENT OF CONSTRAINT INFLUENCES, by Philip Whitfield, Alan H.Fielding, David R.A. McLeod, Paul F. Haworth and Jeff Watson. - Biological Conservation, Volume 130, Issue 4 , July 2006, Pages 465-480
In the Abstract, we read:
"Despite apparent overall population stability over the last 20 years, the national golden eagle population failed to meet the abundance target and only 3 of 16 regions where eagles have occupied territories since 1982 were considered to be in favourable condition."
Two of the 3 regions in question are in the Hebridean Islands.
(4) DEMOGRAPHIC DIFFICULTY (http://www.iberica2000.org/DOCUMENTS/EOLICA/LEWIS/OBJECTION_LEWIS_EAGLES_2007.doc)
(5) DEVELOPING METHODS TO REDUCE BIRD MORTALITY IN THE ALTAMONT PASS WIND RESOURCE AREA - Dr. Smallwood & K. Thelander (2004). - Available online: SMALLWOOD:http://www.energy.ca.gov/pier/final_project_reports/500-04-052.html]
- See : CHAPTER 3, TABLE 3.11, 1ST LINE, : "116.5 golden eagles p.a. adjusted for search detection and scavenging."
(6) Thelander, C. G, Smallwood, K.S., Rugge, L. ( 2003 ) : "It appears that factors other than tower type play more of a role in whether a particular turbine is associated with one or more fatalities, such as prey distribution about the tower´s base, physical relief, and presence of declivity winds. Regardless, the number of fatalities at tubular towers was higher than at horizontal lattice towers" - Chapter 6: Discussion.
(7) "Adjusting for local relative abundance, the existing data indicate that most wind energy generating facilities have an equal impact on the local raptors." Chapter 4 – Paragraph 4.4.1 of : DEVELOPING METHODS TO REDUCE BIRD MORTALITY IN THE ALTAMONT PASS WIND RESOURCE AREA - Dr. Smallwood & K. Thelander (2004). - Available online: SMALLWOOD
(8) "raptors spent significantly more time flying at close proximity to turbine blades ... than 51-100 m away ... or >100 m away … Analyzing the total number of minutes of flight time reveals that something about wind turbines may attract red-tailed hawks to fly near turbines and at dangerous heights. Similarly, American kestrels flew in proximity level 1 [ie 1-50m from turbine] nearly four times longer than expected by chance, golden eagles two times longer, and northern harriers three times longer"
BIRD RISK BEHAVIORS AND FATALITIES AT THE ALTAMONT PASS WIND RESOURCE AREA, Thelander, C. G, Smallwood, K.S., Rugge, L. - Period of Performance: March 1998-December 2000, National Renewable Energy Laboratory Report SR-500-33829, 2003. - Available online : [FATAL ATTRACTION:www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/33829.pdf].
(8) RESIDENT GOLDEN EAGLE RANGING BEHAVIOUR BEFORE AND AFTER CONSTRUCTION OF A WINDFARM IN ARGYLL, 2005, D Walker, M McGrady, A McCluskie, M Madders & D R A McLeod.
This study fails to stress the significant negative impacts of the windfarm : see chapter entitled THE EFFECT OF WINDFARMS ON THE SCOTTISH GE POPULATION, section 2 on [BEINN AN TUIRC:www.iberica2000.org/documents/EOLICA/LEWIS/OBJECTION_LEWIS_EAGLES_2007.doc]
(9) Windfarms - Red Energy
(11) [PIGEONS ETC.:http://www.thisisnorthscotland.co.uk/displayNode.jsp?nodeId=149664&command=displayContent&sourceNode=149490&contentPK=17790708&folderPk=85696&pNodeId=14]
(13) [JANUARY 2006:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/4655518.stm]
(14) [JUNE 2006:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5108666.stm]
(15) [MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS:http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/216/216492_wind_farms_are_killing_eagles.html]
(16) [RSPB MONITORING:http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=139872006]
(17) [CHAPMAN RELEASE:http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/wind_turbines_birds/message/2526]
(18) [HACKED SEA GULL FALLS ON TESCO CUSTOMER´S FACE:http://www.nwemail.co.uk/news/viewarticle.aspx?id=506914]
>> Autor: marcos (09/08/2007)
>> Fuente: Mark Duchamp
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