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New spin on windfarm controversy

PUBLISHED: 07:40 25 March 2009 | UPDATED: 13:27 03 July 2010

Danger to wildlife? Clouds roll in over the North Pickenham windfarm, near Swaffham.

Danger to wildlife? Clouds roll in over the North Pickenham windfarm, near Swaffham.

A WILDLIFE charity yesterday fuelled the controversy surrounding wind farms by urging the government to erect more giant turbines in the countryside.

Wildlife has been a key factor in objections to wind farm schemes across the country including in East Anglia, where communities have rallied against both onshore and offshore projects, and even Natural England has raised concerns about their impact on rare species and their habitats.

A WILDLIFE charity yesterday fuelled the controversy surrounding wind farms by urging the government to erect more giant turbines in the countryside.

Wildlife has been a key factor in objections to wind farm schemes across the country including in East Anglia, where communities have rallied against both onshore and offshore projects, and even Natural England has raised concerns about their impact on rare species and their habitats.

But the RSPB yesterday called for a large increase in the number of onshore wind farms after a report found far more could be built without damaging wildlife.

It believes climate change poses such a “terrifying” threat that there is an urgent need for renewable energy to tackle greenhouse emissions.

Despite the UK's “abundant” natural wind resources, it is lagging behind other European countries, with wind turbines providing just two per cent of the country's energy needs in 2007.

The RSPB urged the government to step in to provide a clear lead on developing wind farms more quickly without damaging wildlife or alienating communities, and recommended regional and local targets to ensure council decisions reflect the national priority of building more wind farms.

Species and important habitats would be “mapped” to protect areas at greater risk and new developments should provide benefits for communities and wildlife to avoid controversy.

Ruth Davis, head of climate change policy at the RSPB, said: “Left unchecked, climate change threatens many species with extinction. Yet that sense of urgency is not translating into actions on the ground to harness the abundant wind energy around us.”

She said solutions were largely common sense, including a clear lead from government on where wind farms were built and clear guidance for councils on how to deal with applications.

She added: “This report shows that if we get it right, the UK can produce huge amounts of clean energy without time-consuming conflicts and harm to our wildlife.

“Get it wrong and people may reject wind power. That would be disastrous.”

BWEA, the UK's leading renewable energy association, welcomed the report. Its chief executive Maria McCaffery described the RSPB's call as “timely and well judged” and stressed it was important that the report was followed by action on the ground.

The strength of feeling for what some see as an answer to climate change, and others a blot on the landscape, peaked at Marshland St James, near Wisbech. Vandals destroyed a test mast and farmer Richard Herbert, instrumental in putting together the plans, took his own life.

Two years later, a consortium behind Marshland Wind Farm (MWF) is submitting a fresh application for 19 turbines, while campaigners claim they can scent victory. Interestingly, the RSPB has continued to voice concerns about the project, along with other wildlife groups.

Many schemes are in the pipeline. In South Norfolk campaigners lost their battle against three turbines at Lotus in Hethel, while protestors continue to rally against three turbines at the former RAF Pulham site, near Diss, and seven at Hempnall.

Geoff Moulton, chairman of Stop Hempnall's On Shore Wind Turbines (Showt) said he was surprised and disappointed by the RSPB.

“Onshore wind turbines are losing credibility day by day,” he said. “They aren't going to save the planet and we need a far more reliable form of renewable energy such as tidal power and wave energy.

“I've been a member of the RSPB for 35 years and support what they are doing for birds, but I think they have got this one horribly wrong.”

In mid-Norfolk residents have mounted a seven-year campaign against plans for two 100m turbines at Shipdham, which they say would be too close to homes and too noisy. Ecotricity lost its appeal against Breckland's rejection of their plans and is understood to be revising its application.

Brian Kidd, of Campaign Against Turbines in Shipdham and Scarning (Catss) said the group had not made a case about the possible harm to wildlife, but understood that the RSPB's report could be used to support future turbine plans.

He said: “It's certainly surprising. They are trying to argue that they need to combat climate change because if we don't it could be harmful to wildlife. It's a tenuous link and I think they are going down the wrong path and should be looking at offshore, where they cannot do harm to onshore wildlife.”

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