24th February 2009

Scientists at the University of Stirling are to conduct the world's first study into the effects of micro wind turbines on birds and bats.

At a time of public and political interest in energy from renewable sources, domestic micro-turbines could make an important contribution to energy production. But there are growing concerns over birds and bats colliding with the rotating blades, or being displaced from foraging areas and nesting/roosting sites.

Dr Kirsty Park, a lecturer in ecology and conservation biology at the University of Stirling, has been given a research grant from the Leverhulme Trust to investigate whether the environmental gains of renewable wind energy could come at a cost to wildlife.

She said: "There have been anecdotal reports of bird and bat fatalities resulting from collisions with micro-turbines, but we don't know whether these pose a threat to wildlife populations or if they are just isolated events. To date, there have been no studies anywhere in the world to assess the importance of collisions, or any other risks that micro-turbines may pose, to bird or bat populations."

Over two years, Kirsty and her research team will assess:

  • mortality of birds and bats associated with micro-turbines;
  • the effect on flight behaviour and activity levels;
  • factors that may lead birds/bats to approach turbines;
  • possible disturbance effects on nesting birds and roosting bats.

Species which may be affected include those that take insects in the air, such as swifts and house martins, and those that nest in buildings, such as house sparrows and starlings. All bat species in the UK are aerial insectivores and many also commonly roost in buildings, in particular common and soprano pipistrelles.

Around a thousand micro-turbines have already been installed on houses and in gardens and fields around Britain, and Tescos has even started to put micro-turbines on its stores. And Kirsty points out the numbers could be about to increase: "Micro-turbines, whether roof-mounted or free-standing, currently need planning permission, but this may change under current government proposals which will designate 'permitted development' under certain conditions"

The researchers will monitor micro-turbines throughout the UK in a mix of situations, and hope to work with turbine manufacturers to identify potential sites.

She said: "I would invite anyone who has installed a micro-turbine to take part in the study by completing a questionnaire on our web site. There is such a dearth of information that this will all be useful in helping us understand better how bats and birds react to micro-turbines".

A questionnaire for owners is available at: http://www.sbes.stir.ac.uk/research/ecology/micro-turbines.html.