Sunday, March 14, 2010

Booker on bird choppers

It is a criminal offence to kill bats and golden eagles, writes Booker today in his column – unless of course you are a windmill owner.

The main objection to these bird choppers is, of course, their outrageous expense – machines for producing derisory amounts of electricity at colossal cost. That is why the government wants us to spend £100 billion on building thousands more of them which, even were it technically possible, would do virtually nothing to fill the fast-looming 40 percent gap in our electricity supply.

But, in all the time spent railing against these useless machines, Booker has never mentioned their devastating effect on wildlife, notably on large birds of prey, such as eagles and red kites. And particularly disturbing, he says, is the extent to which the disaster has been downplayed by professional bodies.

Two of those who are notably muted in their protests are the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Britain and the Audubon Society in the US. They should be at the forefront of exposing this outrage, but which have often been drawn into a conflict of interest by the large sums of money they derive from the wind industry itself.

Booker goes on to outline some of the evidence for the worldwide scale of this carnage. The world's largest and most carefully monitored wind farm, Altamont Pass in California, he says, is estimated to have killed between 2,000 and 3,000 golden eagles alone in the past 20 years.

Since turbines were erected on the isle of Smola, off Norway, home to an important population of white-tailed sea eagles, destruction is so great that last year only one chick survived. Thanks to wind farms in Tasmania, a unique sub-species of wedge-tailed eagles faces extinction.

And here in Britain, plans to build eight wind farms on the Hebridean islands, among Scotland’s largest concentration of golden eagles, now pose a major threat to the species' survival in the UK.

The real problem, we are told, is that birds of prey and wind developers are both drawn, for similar reasons, to the same sites – hills and ridges where the wind provides lift for soaring birds and heavily subsidised profits for developers.

Eagles may thus be drawn from hundreds of square miles to particular wind farms. And, as can be seen from the YouTube video of a vulture circling above a turbine in Crete, the vortices created by blade tips revolving at up to 200mph can destabilise such large birds, plunging them into a fatal collision with the blades.

What has been particularly helpful to Booker in detailing this problem is the emergence of Mark Duchamp, a retired French businessman and now campaigner living in Alicante. Through his website Iberica 2000, he has documented multiple episodes of bird-kill, including at Spanish sites where they may be killing up to a million birds a year.

Duchamp also focuses his campaign on what he sees as the disturbing failure to protect birds by the bodies whose job it is to do so, from the RSPB to the European Commission. The RSPB claims to keep a critical eye on those effects, but nevertheless urges a major expansion of wind farms, on the grounds that "climate change is the most significant threat to biodiversity on the planet".

As always, money talks – not least to the RSPB which receives £10 from the wind-farm builder Scottish & Southern Energy for every customer signing up for electricity under its "RSPB Energy" scheme. Ornithologists also derive a good income from developers for providing impact assessments for planning applications or for monitoring existing wind farms for bird collisions.

So it goes on. Conflict of interest, petty corruption and downright abrogation of responsibilities mean absolutely nothing when you can convince yourself that you are saving the planet – then anything goes. And when it comes to the EU commission, their Birds and Habitats Directives - which they are usually so zealous in ensuring are enforced throughout the member states – suddenly becomes rather inconvenient.

Just in case you ask, Booker does mention power lines. Large birds of prey are far from being the only victims of wind farms, and the thousands of miles of power lines needed to connect them to the grid. A study cited by Birdlife International shows that, each year, power lines can be responsible for up to 800 bird kills per mile. And wind farms, with their new grid, will ensure that the carnage increases.

The bizarre thing is that these "greenies" are supposed to be pro-nature. Yet, time and time again, it is they who are the ones supporting the degradation of the natural environment, then relying on convoluted arguments and deception to cover up their inconsistencies. In time, we could tie them to the blades of their windmills, as ad hoc bird scarers, at which point we will finally have found a use for them.