Sea eagle killed at Scottish windfarm, but persecution remains greatest threat

Burnfoot windfarm 2The inevitable has finally happened; a Scottish windfarm has claimed its first reported eagle victim – a young sea eagle known as ‘Red T’.

Red T was released in 2011 as part of the East Scotland Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project – he was one of a cohort of young birds donated by Norway between 2007-2011 to form a nucleus breeding population for the species’ recovery in eastern Scotland.

His body was discovered in February this year at Burnfoot Hill windfarm in the Ochil hills (see photo). A post-mortem concluded that the likely cause of death was collision with a wind turbine (see here for a report by Rob Edwards and here for the RSPB’s East Scotland Sea Eagle project blog).

This tragic event wasn’t wholly unexpected. Windfarms and eagles don’t mix, especially when the turbines have been sited in a high-density eagle area (e.g. Smola island, in Norway – see here). To date, Scotland’s 150+ windfarms haven’t caused such a catastrophic impact as those in places such as Smola, although other victims have been recorded here, including hen harriers and red kites. Red T is the first known recorded eagle to have been killed by a turbine collision in Scotland, and he probably won’t be the last.

However, it’s important to keep Red T’s death in perspective. Windfarms have been around in Scotland for nearly twenty years and yet this is the first reported eagle death. In contrast, since 1989, at least 63 eagles (golden & white-tailed) have been reported as victims of illegal persecution according to RSPB data, and these are just the known victims – there are likely to have been many more. There is compelling scientific evidence that persecution is having a population-level impact on some species, especially golden eagles. This persecution is particularly associated with land managed as driven grouse moors in the central, eastern and southern uplands. These driven grouse moors tend to be situated on large privately-owned estates. The Land Reform Review Group this week published an interesting report which considers the future of these massive sporting estates – have a read of land reform campaigner Andy Wightman’s blog here for his perspective and the amusing responses of various land-use groups including SLE and the SGA.

45 thoughts on “Sea eagle killed at Scottish windfarm, but persecution remains greatest threat”

  1. Watching the Land Reform Proposals with interest.. it is a historical necessity.. to rid Scotland of an outmoded feudal system… especially in the interest of an independent Scotland.. unfettered by these foreign enterprises.. and hey I am from Germany.. Best of luck

  2. Just wait for the blast from the wind farm haters…and the persecution deniers…they wont let your facts get in the way!

    1. I don’t care for eitheir – SNP want to turn Scotland into one giant wind farm which is bad news for eagles and many other species

      1. Given that large parts of the country have already been disfigured and despoiled by windfarms there seems to be little prospect that they will ever make any substantial contribution to energy needs. Monitoring throughout the year is an education.
        Percentage windfarm output today is tiny and yet electricy demand is low.

  3. Well I am a wind farm hater and am maddened at the way the SNP are ruining our countryside with these hideous unproductive and costly (except to the land owner ) monstrosities. I am sure that there will be many more collisions.
    Having said that, I am even more hateful of driven grouse moors, and hope that the land reform proposals will have an impact on those despicable and ugly places. I am well aware that Gamekeepers are by far the biggest threat to all of our wildlife.

  4. The shame of it is, if the windmills weren’t always painted white to appease the unappeasable haters and blend in (which they’ll never blend in enough for even if they were flat out invisible), but were painted in brighter colours with high contrast then bird strikes would drop immeasurably. Personally I love them, I think they look grand and I say that as someone living slap bang between two very big windfarms and see them every day. I think most of the objections to them are just people who like to sneer at things or just hate change, and are using very thin justifications mostly based on information from the mid-1990s and ignoring any advances since them.

    1. I suggest you calculate the blade tip speed of a typical windmill, and consider whether you would manage to get out of the way of a bright red Ferrari cruising your habitat at the same speed.

      1. I don’t have to get away from the Ferrari that is coming towards me, I just need to see where the racetrack is, so as to keep away from the cars entirely. That is the problem at the moment, windfarms blending in too well; so the birds are on the racetrack and in the path of the cars before they even know they are there. From which point, yes, they cannot dodge the oncoming Ferrari. Mark the blades more clearly so they don’t blend so well, and they can stay in the stands ordering popcorn and hotdogs and maybe diet cokes (I may have over extended that metaphor there).

        1. Birds don’t understand signs that read “keep out”. Ferraris aren’t confined to racetracks. Glad you think you’d be able to avoid one coming at you at 200mph when you are looking in another direction – its bright red colour not exactly helping the eyes in the back of your head. Perhaps you should try the experiment?

        2. If you think windfarms blend in too well you should live where I live, I can see them for miles around!

          I don’t think the problem is the birds don’t see them, I think they don’t associate them as a threat and tend to ignore them until it’s too late and a blade hits them. If a windfarm happens to have been built on or close to the preferred flightpath of certain birds, and many have, then sooner or later one or more is going to be hit by the whirling blades.

  5. I too am a confirmed windfarm hater and detest the way they are ruining the environment under the misguided belief that they are environmentally friendly, not just in Scotland but worldwide. It has been proved without doubt that they bring little or no benefit to the ambiguous plan to reduce carbon emissions, in fact in many cases they have produced more than they reduce and we still need to have conventional power stations running 24 hours a day. The only benefits these monstrosities bring is to the manufactures, the landowners and the entrepreneurs who are raking in millions of £££ of tax payers money via the huge government subsidies available, these subsidies help to keep our already overpriced electricity bills far higher than they need to be.

    One thing they don’t tell you about the windfarms is that they employ people to remove any dead birds that are found around and about the windmills, so the chances of finding the true numbers of bird kills is hidden from the public. It’s also fairly well known in birding circles and others that some of the windfarm companies will go to any lengths to obtain permission to build; tricks such as moor burning, Raptor persecution and fictitious or doctored bird and wildlife surveys are all employed to make it seem that there will be little or no impact on the wildlife living there. Any refusals are normally appealed, in some cases several times and all at the public expense, more often than not the refusals are overridden roughshod by the Scottish government, only too eager to appease the first ministers short-sighted goal of covering the pristine Scottish landscape with windmills as far as the eye can see.

    1. Well said N – Germany is even further down the wind power road then the UK and all they have to show for it is increasing emmissions and spiralling power bills.

    2. I agree with what you say, but please, can we stop referring to the turbines as ‘windmills’? They have nothing in-common with a windmill and as for a ‘farm’ that ever-so comforting, ‘green’ word. These ‘farms’ are turbine installatiions.

  6. There should be no distraction from the fact that direct illegal persecution on intensively managed grouse moors is by far the most limiting factor in gravely supressing our eagle population. However it is obvious to all but the RSPB that wind farms will become a very serious problem for eagles especially as the RSPB have approved so many on prime eagle habitat, including areas which are managed for grouse shooting.. To suggest, has the RSPB spokes person did in the Herald article that the Ochils were not eagle habitat shows just how ignorant some of their staff are; for a white-tailed eagle around the firths of Tay & Forth, hills like that are where they will naturally find carrion in the form of sheep carcasses etc.. The same clueless RSPB staff have allowed the Southern Uplands to become a mine field for eagles with all the wind farms they have approved. The same goes for some really imported areas in the Central Highlands & further east. Wind farm operators, like criminal gamekeepers, hide the corpses of collision killed eagles & other wildlife.

  7. The key question has to be ” did the Environmental Impact Assessment, done before the permission was granted contain a collision risk assessment, and what were the results?”

    It is illegal to set out to kill these birds. There is no licence available to kill them.
    If they said in the collision risk model that they would probably kill a few over the lifespan of the wind farm…and now have, a crime has been committed.

  8. I have friends who are employed doing bird surveys. I know they report what they see, but are the sightings they record used correctly by firms wanting to erect Windfarms, I very much doubt it. Who is there to question and check on these firms. Are any checks done ?

  9. This is the first confirmed death due to collision with a turbine but how many other ones have been found by the wind farm companies and discreetly removed. Perhaps the only reason this one was found was after the snow thawed and exposed it. Add this to the other 12 sea eagles killed in Scotland since 2007 by power lines and trains you start looking at quite substantial numbers. As per usual though the RSPB and many on here stil have to turn the focus towards alleged persecution by keepers and farmers. This is simply to detract from their anti-keeper mentality and the fact that the RSPB have fast tracked the approval for wind farms in some very sensitive areas. I wonder how big the brown envelopes are to ensure approval is granted!

    There is no way whatsoever that wind farms reduce Scotland’s carbon footprint probably quite the opposite! By the time all the roads are build, material quarried and brought in, concrete bases constructed, windmills built, transported to the site, erected then connected to the national grid how much energy, fuel etc has been used doing that! The other issue is also that everyone is very quiet about what is going to happen to these wind farms once they have exceeded their life expectancy (20 years approx) will they been replaced? (At the taxpayers cost), decommissioned (paid for by whom?) or left to rust on our hillsides like has happened so many other places across the world?

    1. I was made aware of a situation where the RSPB profited well from reversal of a decision on the Golspie wind farm. During the application process the RSPB denied their approval due to the proximity of nesting harriers. I’m led to believe the sum of £50000 changed hands to allow the RSPB to “study harriers” and the approval was given for the go ahead. Amusing how there was such a turn around of opinion from the RSPB, one almost thinks are wind farm applications a licence to print money for this so called charity!!

    2. But Grouseman, this very detraction tactic you write of, Is the same tactic that the shooting lobby has used for years, whenever evidence reveals yet more criminality carried out by those involved with the shooting industry. Indeed, you have used this tactic on many occasions yourself, yet here you are criticising people for doing the very same. That is a bit hypocritical.

      But anyway, I think windfarms have their place in the energy mix, provided they are sited in non-conflict areas, but I do agree that there are far too many windfarms in Scotland at present. However, I think some folks (primarily the anti-RSPB brigade) have somehow got it into their heads that the RSPB have the final say in the windfarm planning process. This is not the case. The RSPB can lodge objections to windfarms, or not if they choose, but they do not have the authority to approve windfarm applications.

      1. I have always admitted there is a certain level of persecution carried by certain people inside the shooting industry no one can deny that I’m just pointing out there is other factors limiting the distribution and population of certain species. Just look at the levels of publicity, one transmitter goes off on a grouse moor it’s all over the national press saying how much the loss of one bird will have huge effects on the national population. On the other hand there has never been a peep about the 12 killed by power lines and trains like it’s just one of those things and not a big problem! I especially thought something would have been mentioned prior to the upgrading of the Beauly-Denny power lines, much of which goes through the areas most commonly inhabited by eagles in the country.

        Again I agree with you that Wind farms probably have their place but I don’t see the need to plaster the top of every hill in our countryside, in some of the most vulnerable habitats, with the things. I fail to see why they can’t be built around cities and the sides of motorways where there is better road infrustrucure, closer and better access for maintenance, less impact on wildlife and the scenery and less distance to take power lines.

        1. Grouseman,

          The loss of a single individual will not have “huge effects on the national population” – not sure where you’ve read that.

          The reason there is so much publicity surrounding each ‘disappearance’ of a satellite-tagged eagle is because it is a recurring theme, not a one-off incident.

          1. So the birds killed by powerlines and trains don’t count because its seen as acceptable?? Grouseman has a very valid point!! It is very suspicious to me that in smola there are a number of sea eagle deaths from 68 turbines, but in this country, with god knows how many turbines distributed through some prime eagle territory, there has only been one found!! I smell a rat!!

            1. Who said those deaths don’t count? Of course they count, but high mortality in young birds of any species is to be expected – that’s basic ecology. The deliberate poisoning, shooting and trapping of eagles places an additive pressure on the background mortality rate, and that is why it is so damaging at the population level. Oh, and it’s also illegal.

              As for your comparison between the turbine placement at Smola and those in Scotland, you might want to do a bit more research and pay particular attention to the proximity of a high-density breeding population of WTEs on Smola.

            2. There is a massive difference between the accidental collisions you and Grouseman refer to, and the premeditated slaughter of raptors on shooting estates all around the country.

        2. The Beauly-Denny power lines should never have been allowed, the Scottish government should for ever hang their collective heads in shame over that decision.

      2. I believe that the claim that wind turbines are part of an ‘energy mix’ is now outdated. The vast amount of taxpayers’ money, the destruction, both environmentally and visually of large areas of these small islands and the huge profits, NOT a concern about the environment and CO2 emissions which feed the gold rush to erect even more are destroying the landscape, killing wildlife and the other area which is rarely mentioned – harming human health.

        1. Which is why I also stated that I believe there are too many in Scotland. As for the energy mix issue, I do believe they have a part to play, but I would much rather that money was invested in solar energy, making it truly affordable for all, enabling energy to be produced even on excessively dull days.

  10. These ugly intrusive objects are a disgrace to our beautiful countryside – I travel all over Scotland and I cringe every time they rear their ugly heads above our hills! Applications to erect these things in Aberdeenshire alone are very many – money does indeed talk!! Is this just the tip of the iceberg regarding bird fatalities – I wonder….

  11. Circus maxima the question is, are “environment impact assessments” robust. Grouseman I agree 100% with what you say above, that is in paragraph two. Regarding the first paragraph hardly anything. Eagles are being killed illegally on grouse moors. that’s a proven FACT. In addition satellite tagged eagles “disappear” in these same areas all too frequently. The RSPB isn’t anti gamekeepers, though its anti the criminals who operate on intensively managed grouse moors. The RSPB approve wind farms in important areas for eagles which will inevitably lead to collisions, that’s a FACT. The RSPB’s policies don’t make sense, that’s a FACT.

  12. It’s important to remember that the wind farms are saving our lives! If it wasn’t for wind farms, the air would be too hot to breath now, and ALL the birds would be killed.

    Surely it’s better to kill some birds and bats that ALL of them?

    1. If you believe that then there are fairies at the bottom of the garden, and no, it’s not better to kill birds and bats, how can this be helping to save our lives ???

  13. Dodgy Geezer….doggy facts…as well as the points Grouseman explained in his second paragraph above they are unreliable & need to have a conventional power station running in tandem. No savings on CO2. Give me renewables any day, but they need to be reliable.

    1. Can we assume therefore that you woul dbe in-favour of a turbine installation being built near your home? There are 64 million people struggling for space in ever decreasing open spaces. One day, many if us will have a turbine installation very close by if this madness continues.

  14. These windfarms, what’s not to hate? They make most of us poorer by raising our energy costs. They kill our birds and bats with impunity. They deface and industrialise our countryside and seascapes for no good purpose. And for those who care about this, they make no appreciable reduction of CO2 emissions.

    1. John, you miss the most important thing about windfarms, the one and only really important thing, they make loads of money for the manufacturers, the entrepreneurs and the landowners! All this is at the expense of the public purse and the natural environment.

  15. I agree with RPS that the losses of eagles etc to human persecion, especially losses of breeding adults, is of greatest concern and is having a real impact on raptor populations, esp those with low breeding rates. One wind-turbine strike is not in the same league. Its likely though that several others have been missed or gone unrecorded/unreported. In Ireland three of 100 released sea eagles have been killed by turbine strikes. Two of these would not have been found if it wasnt for dedicated searches (fatality monitoring) while the other was found on an access road near a turbine by a local farmer, who spotted a wing and searched for and found the body nearby. One had a working transmitter but this was destroyed by the turbine collision. The cumulative effects of windfarms is likely to be underestimated at least for sea eagles as immatures wander so widely. Env Impact Assessments carried out by ecological consultants on behalf of developers in RoI are largely a joke with “breeding” surveys for raptors/waders etc out of season or confined to a single day and are reviewed by planners with little or no knowledge of ecology.

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