There’s a fascinating new scientific research paper just published in Ibis, the journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union, relating to the flight behaviour of young satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland in and around windfarms.
Authored by a number of experts from Scotland’s Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group (GESTG), this study demonstrates how young golden eagles actively avoid operational wind turbines.
Here is the abstract:
The notion that young dispersing golden eagles in Scotland appear to avoid wind farms was discussed in the Government-commissioned report published in 2017: Fielding & Whitfield, Analyses of the Fates of Satellite Tracked Golden Eagles in Scotland (see Chapter 8), when the authors were examining whether any of the tagged eagles that had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances were within the vicinity of a wind farm.
The report concluded that no, they weren’t, and it was recommended that further detailed research be undertaken to examine the movements of young satellite-tagged eagles in and around operational vs non-operational windfarms, which is the focus of this latest paper.
Unfortunately this paper is behind a paywall (a particular gripe of mine but that’s for another day) so I can’t post the full paper on here. However, I do have a related graphic that I think helps to illustrate some of the research findings of the paper.
This map shows the flight lines (red) of one of the young satellite-tagged golden eagles that Chris Packham and I are monitoring. It shows, quite clearly, how this young eagle is generally avoiding flying over / through the footprints of three large windfarms (blue) in the Monadhliath Mountains (thanks to Alan Fielding for the data analysis).
Why this avoidance technique seems so prevalent in young Scottish golden eagles, in sharp contrast to findings in some other countries where certain raptor species have been recorded in high incident turbine collisions, is really interesting.
Raptor collision with turbines depends on a wide number of variables including site and habitat-related issues as well as the behaviour and ecology of the particular raptor species. It is a well-studied subject in a number of countries and has demonstrated that just because one raptor species has been killed at one wind farm at one location, it doesn’t automatically mean that every raptor is threatened by every wind farm, everywhere. I’m afraid that’s just simplistic nonsense, trotted out by those who are either (a) anti-wind farm or (b) desperate to deflect attention away from the continued illegal poisoning, shooting and trapping of raptors by gamekeepers in the UK (e.g. see here and here).
In their discussion about why young Scottish golden eagles might be avoiding wind turbines, in addition to the finding that habitat suitability inside and outside of the wind farm is important, the authors in this latest paper refer to a concept known as ‘the ecology of fear’ and discuss the evolutionary history of golden eagle persecution in the UK and how this may be leading to a genetic predisposition to wariness of humans, with wind turbines being used as the ‘cue’ for eagles to express their fear (i.e. by avoidance).
This latest paper from the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group is yet another significant contribution to our understanding of how golden eagles use the landscape and, along with this earlier paper from the GESTG, will greatly help planners and statutory agencies to make decisions that will have the least impact on this protected species and its preferred habitat.
It shouldn’t be necessary but apparently it is, to point out that this research is conducted by highly experienced conservationists, under licence, whose sole motivation is the protection of the golden eagle. They sacrifice time with their families and volunteer an enormous amount of personal time, personal funds and technical expertise to undertake this research. In any other country their efforts would be celebrated, applauded and appreciated (as indeed they have been in Spain!). But in Scotland, they are slandered, abused and attacked (e.g. here) by those who are desperate to corrode public and political confidence in raptor satellite-tagging because they know how incriminating these satellite tag data can be, exposing time and again the areas where birds of prey are being illegally killed.
There are a number of other peer-reviewed scientific papers from the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group, due imminently.