A twenty year study by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) shows that red grouse are laying eggs 0.5 days earlier each year, potentially harming their survival chances. As an endemic species, red grouse only exist in the British Isles, where they are an important game bird, and are managed due to loss of their heathland habitat.
The main concern earlier hatching raises for red grouse populations is trophic mismatch. This is where changes in population cycles occur, causing prey and predator species to be ‘out of sync’, with prey populations being lower than previously when predator populations are higher. Predator starvation or reduced survival prospects may result, as less food is available when needed. If red grouse chicks’ prey doesn’t coincide with chick hatching, the young red grouse may be left hungry. The warm weather seems to be driving craneflies – a key chick food – to be emerging even earlier than the chicks. This means even though chicks are hatching earlier, they may not be early enough for their prey and may still miss out. Even worse, early cranefly hatching can mean less survive to lay eggs for the following year.
Red grouse, Lagopus lagopus scotica, have been laying eggs earlier due to climate change. Image: Alistair Young.
As is often the case when climate change is considered, the effects on survival are even further complicated. The warmer springs produce more vegetation for red grouse hens to feed on, allowing them to produce more eggs. GWCT have found that hens laying earlier tend to have larger clutches, which could save the birds from decline.
As of yet, no overall effect on red grouse populations has been found.
Clashes between bird conservationists and wind farm supporters first arose in the early eighties, when deaths by collision blackmarked the sustainable energy ‘solution’ as a major threat to larger bird species. Species most at risk are be birds of prey and waterbirds, both of which are more likely to die from collisions, and have lower population growth rates and poorer manoeuvrability in flight. Bird charities such as the RSPB have since campaigned against many wind farm proposals, so why are they now building a turbine in their own headquarters?
Barnacle goose, Branta leucopsis, are particularly vulnerable to collisions
Since the first wind farms were designed, much effort has been ploughed into reducing their impacts on nature. Whilst deaths of larger bird species are concerning, the RSPB has only objected to around six percent of wind farm applications across the country – the main cause of concern being migration routes.
It is still true that turbines cause fatalities, however studies have shown that, for every bird killed by wind farms, 5820 are killed by striking buildings. The RSPB stress that it is still important to monitor the risk of turbines, and appropriate precautions should be employed – locations away from populations of endangered species should be preferred, and those away from migration routes. Set to arise in Autumn 2013, the RSPB turbine will provide over two thirds of the RSPB’s electricity usage across the UK from its location in Bedfordshire. It will stand as a statement that wind energy, when harnessed appropriately, can be a useful tool in fighting climate change and providing a sustainable future.