Dark Knight Sinks: Why Wind Turbines are Killing Bats

While bees are a cause for environmental wellness concern here in Britain, the US is finding that the wellbeing of bats is under threat. According to a study of bat deaths, wind turbines across America are bats at an alarming rate, with more than 600,000 of the Bruce Wayne-inspiring nocturnal fliers being killed by energy-producing wind turbines in 2012. The study, published in the journal BioScience, noted that the largest number of bat deaths occurred in the Appalachian Mountains. Researchers from the University of Colorado wrote, ‘Dead bats are found underneath wind turbines across North America. This estimate of bat fatalities is probably conservative.’


The researchers believe that the number of bats actually killed by wind turbines could be as much as 50% higher than they’ve seen. The data had holes in, and the researchers made the assumption that other animals may have scavenged some of the dead bats before they could be counted. For the study, the researchers looked at data from dead bats found at 21 locations across the US, finding that the deadliest things for bats were the East Coast generators of the Appalachian Mountains. In the UK, bats are a protected species in the UK, and deliberately injuring or killing them could mean you face six months in jail and a fine of up to £5,000. Turbine blades generate a lot of heat which attracts a lot of insects and, in turn, bats.


Conservationists have suggested that even if bats avoid the turbines, the spinning blades create such as change in pressure that it is capable of bursting their lungs. Anne Youngman, Scottish officer of the Bat Conservation Trust, commented, ‘People think that the danger is the bats getting hit by the blade, which does happen, but the danger to them is really barotrauma, were they are literally popped from the inside. It is reported a lot that birds of prey are dying because of wind turbines, but lots of bats are too.’ She added, ‘There are many risks to bats in Scotland, such as cats and other animals attacking them, as well as the weather. But when you add the wind turbines it could be the final nail in the coffin.’


Melissa Behr, a vet at the University of Wisconsin, noted that while she has seen no physical signs of trauma when dealing with a number of bats, some had suffered damage to the ears and lungs. ‘There are bats with no broken bones or other evidence of blunt trauma, that have pulmonary and middle ear haemorrhages which implies that they had suffered barotrauma,’ she explained. ‘In one case 46% per cent of the bats that were seen had no physical sign of trauma, but 100% had pulmonary haemorrhage. The conclusion is that a large percentage must have died of barotrauma.’


Christine Metcalfe, an anti-wind farm campaigner who has recently won an appeal at the UN when arguing that the UK Government had failed to fully inform the public about the negative effects of turbines, asserted, ‘People don’t realise that the turbine tips move up to speeds of 200 miles an hour. This obviously will have a massive effect on wildlife such as birds and bats.’ In Scotland, the wind farm industry is currently working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to determine how turbines impact bats, with the research due to be published next year. Jenny Hogan, director of policy for Scottish Renewables, noted, ‘Whenever a developer applies to build a wind farm, a thorough environmental impact assessment is carried out to ensure that any effect on wildlife, including bats, is reduced to an absolute minimum and is acceptable.’

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