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Call to monitor Scottish wind farms for impact on protected wildlife

Beaters lined out below turbines on moorland in Scotland. Land uses, side by side like this, are increasingly commonplace today in Scotland.
Beaters lined out below turbines on moorland in Scotland. Land uses, side by side like this, are increasingly commonplace today in Scotland.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) believes the impact of the country’s growing number of wind farms on protected wildlife may have been massively under-reported.

It has called for monitoring around turbine sites to be tightened up to provide more accurate information about the part they play.

The gamekeeping body believes its members have been unfairly blamed for an increase in the disappearance of birds of prey and other protected birds.

Gamekeepers on grouse moors were implicated this year when a report concluded up to 41 out of 131 satellite tagged eagles in Scotland may have disappeared over the past 12 years.

Scottish Natural Heritage reported the majority vanished on land used for shooting and ruled out any connection to wind turbines.

The SGA noted its dissatisfaction with those findings but chose not to speak out, focusing instead on condemning wildlife crime.

Now, with more and more highland wind farms in existence and with many of those overlapping with grouse moors, the body said it is duty bound to intervene in the argument.

Its call comes after a report by BTO, RSPB, Birdlife International, IUCN, Cambridge University, University College London, Imperial College London, University of Stellenbosch and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee showed raptors such as sea eagles and golden eagles to be at the highest risk to turbine mortality of all bird species.

The SGA says gamekeepers have witnessed raptor mortality at wind farm sites and have located stricken birds in vegetation near turbines.

Chairman Alex Hogg said the body has no issues with renewables, with many estates now augmenting sport shooting with wind farms or hydro schemes, but said members feel post-construction monitoring codes must be revisited so causes of bird mortality are clearer.

“A code for ongoing monitoring of wind farms, for wildlife impacts would be helpful,” Mr Hogg said.

“Checks exist but are inconsistent and organised by operators themselves, often using maintenance crew. There is no statutory duty to report bird collisions in Scotland.

“We said at the time we were not convinced by the wind farm element of the satellite tagged eagle report but we didn’t want to detract from our condemnation of illegal behaviour.

“We have, ourselves, expelled six members in five years for wildlife crime convictions. However, we disagreed, and still do, with the report’s assumption there would be little motive for wind companies not to report downed birds.

“Our members have witnessed dead raptors under turbines and up to 200 yards from turbine masts – way beyond the 50m radius operators are recommended to search and report.

“Most have felt duty bound not to speak because turbines march onto land they manage.”

Mr Hogg added: “As a representative body, we see it as our duty to defend our members’ right not to be assumed as guilty until proven innocent for the disappearance of every bird that flies over a moor in Scotland, when other factors may or may not be at play. By agreeing codes for monitoring, there would be greater transparency.”

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