Environment & Science Writer
THE POTENTIAL impact of wind farms on birds and bats is as important an ecological issue as fracking for shale gas in the Karoo, says concerned West Coast conservationist Butch Rice.
His postings about this issue on the local birders’ network, capebirdnet, in recent days have prompted a lively correspondence.
“It’s been gratifying to see the vocal and negative response to proposed Karoo fracking, but why are birders so silent about the wind farms that are just around the corner?” he asked.
Rice pointed out that approval had been given for 55 wind turbines at Paternoster, with a further 145 in the pipeline for this area.
“Each turbine will stand 150m tall, measured to the tip of the rotors. This is equivalent to the height of a 40-storey building... The tower alone is the height of a 30-storey building.”
Another application waiting for approval was for 80 wind turbines on the Darling Hills, which would be “uncomfortably close” to existing bird migration paths, he added.
“At Jakkalsfontein, we have breeding pairs of Black Harriers, which stand a high risk of being affected. The new wind turbines will be literally opposite us, across the road. In addition to bird mortalities, the bat population will also be hammered.
“I see the wind farm issue as being as important as Karoo fracking, particularly to the birding community. If we are to have wind farms they should be sited taking all environmental issues into account. Please, if you feel the same concern as I do, make your voice heard.”
In response, birder Per Holmen said in his home country of Norway 13 White-tailed Eagles had been killed during the first two years’ operation of a wind farm on Smølen island.
“Everyone is talking about pollution. What about aesthetic pollution? A wind farm is one of the ugliest things you can put into a natural landscape,” he argued.
Ecologist Dr Tony Rebelo said his “big worry” was the ecological impact of wind reduction.
“Effectively we are slowing down the wind... at least with coal, nuclear and solar we understand the effects.
“Another effect no one seems to mention is all the cabling and roads that are needed: clearly this cannot be allowed in any natural veld and the area cannot be considered for conservation once a wind farm is planned.”
Donella Young of UCT’s Animal Demography Unit agreed there was “certainly much concern” about the effects of wind farms on birds and bats, and said BirdLife SA and the Endangered Wildlife Trust had been proactive in this regard.
Capebirdnet user Stuart Shearer responded to Rice: “I’m delighted that you are taking up the cudgels. Down here in the Overberg we have a few proposed wind farms but nowhere near the vast number planned for the West Coast. ”
l See the following internet sites: www.birdlife.co.za/data/files /bird_bat_eia_20110405174454.pdf and www.birdlife.co.za/data/files/monitoring_guidelines_20110407163302.pdf and www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/ policy/collisions/wind_farms.html