Wind farms can benefit wildlife and be aesthetically pleasing if they are well designed and built in keeping with the countryside, according to the Scottish government’s adviser on natural habitats and landscape.
Andrew Thin, chairman of the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), acknowledged that not all wind farms were good for habitats and species, and many farmers object to their ugliness, if they are designed irresponsibly.
But despite wind turbines often being criticised as unsightly, he said there was growing evidence to suggest they could be beneficial for certain species.
“Preliminary research from wind farms over the past five years shows improvements to red grouse populations,” said Mr Thin.
“That’s because grouse benefit from the tracks that are put in. They produce more edge habitats, which favours grouse.
“Grouse love edge habitats for many reasons. They get more access to grit, which is vitally important for their dietary requirement.”
Mr Thin said annual surveys have been carried out around wind farms, which showed rising grouse numbers.
He cited examples of three wind farms in Scotland that appeared to be improving biodiversity.
Whitelee Windfarm, near Glasgow, has 140 turbines that can generate 322MW of electricity – enough to power 180,000 homes. The area is also home to a 25km sq of habitat.
“We would expect biodiversity benefits from Whitelee and we will be monitoring it,” said Mr Thin.
Construction for Griffin Wind Farm, in Perthshire, is expected to be finished this spring.
“Wetland habitat has been opened up into a mosaic of open areas and there are improvements to the habitat along watercourses,” said Mr Thin.
“We can look at what’s happening there and say it’s good for biodiversity. But what we cannot do at the moment is provide statistics as it’s too early.”
Black Law Wind Farm, a 42-turbine wind farm with a capacity of 97 megawatts (MW), provides electricity for up to 70,000 homes each year. It is estimated to save 200,000t of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
“The project has restored shallow wetlands, which has created natural habitats in and around the farm,” said Mr Thin.
The project has also been praised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), who said the scheme had improved the landscape in a derelict mining site and benefited a range of wildlife in the area.
Mr Thin said that the Scottish Natural Heritage, a government-funded body that looks after Scotland’s landscapes, was currently involved in about 80 wind farm projects.
“Wind farms are important insofar as they mitigate the effects of climate change, which is destroying seabird colonies around our coasts,” he added.
“If you take a big commercial wetland, open it up and create open spaces near rivers, scientists are pretty confident that will create a biodiversity of species.
“We’re not saying that wind farms are good for all habitats, but there can be some benefit to species if they are designed and built in a responsible way.”
He cited wind farms as the greatest threat to the British countryside and criticised the increasing number appearing on our landscape.