Golden Eagles and Wind Farms, Scotland
Avian Ecology is regularly asked to provide advice to a number of developers, committed to delivering viable wind farm schemes at complex sites, on how wind turbines may be sited sympathetically away from golden eagle ranges, avoiding or minimising the potential for effects upon breeding pairs as a result of habitat loss.
Wind farms may impact golden eagles through a combination of disturbance/displacement and additional mortality caused through collision with turbine blades. The presence of golden eagles at or near to wind farm developments, therefore has a major influence on where and how such developments are located and designed.
The completion of robust ornithological surveys in accordance with current NatureScot guidance (SNH, 2017) underpins sensitive scheme design for priority bird species found at many onshore wind farm sites. The understanding of habitat use within a wind farm site by golden eagles, is however key to establishing its potential importance for both breeding and dispersing birds from an early stage. It can determine whether a project can progress or how its design can be adapted to avoid the potential for negative effects upon regional populations and ensure the favorable conservation status of the national Scottish population is maintained. Early understanding of likely eagle activity is therefore highly advantageous for projects and developers, along with engagement with key stakeholder organisations.
Recent research into the use of topographical features by satellite tracked golden eagles has significantly increased scientific and industry understanding of how the species uses the Scottish landscape (Fielding et al., 2019). Golden eagle satellite tracking and operational monitoring at consented developments has also led to stronger evidence for the species avoidance of wind farms.
The use of topographical models, including the Golden Eagle Topography (GET) model and the incorporation of site-specific species data, can therefore enable a desk-based approach for identifying substantial site constraints, informing scheme design and assessing resulting impacts of displacement for golden eagle as part of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs).
Avian Ecology have led the use of this approach on a number of our Scottish project sites. Our approach is to assist with site selection and scheme design at an early stage, through comprehensive desk-based assessments prior to the progression of target and proportionate field surveys. We ensure and promote regular and early engagement with relevant consultees to ensure a transparent and robust approach to subsequent assessment is provided.
The Avian team can therefore provide early project assistance which will ultimately minimise planning risks as well as help protect these special birds.
SNH (2017) Recommended bird survey methods to inform impact assessment of onshore wind farms. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
Fielding, A.H., Haworth, P.F., Anderson, D., Benn, S., Dennis, S., Weston, E. and Whitfield, D. P. (2019) A simple topographical model to predict golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos space use during dispersal. Ibis, 152 (2).