James Delingpole

The RSPB is fighting for wind turbines. The birds can fend for themselves

14 September 2013

9:00 AM

14 September 2013

9:00 AM

The RSPB has come out against fracking and urged the government to ‘rethink its shale gas policies’. And of course the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds would know. After all when your skill set ranges from identifying Little Brown Jobs through your binoculars at 10,000 yards all the way to differentiating a Greater Spotted Woodpecker from a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker merely by the sound of its drumming beak, clearly it goes without saying that your insights into the merits of hydraulic fracturing and the minutiae of Britain’s energy economy deserve to be taken very seriously indeed.

No, no I jest. About the first bit, anyway. It would, of course, be an utter nonsense to expect anyone in the upper echelons of the RSPB (as opposed to the dedicated and decent membership) to know anything about ornithology these days. What, after all, do stupid, twittery, feathered creatures matter when you’re on a holy, Gaia-sent mission to drive up the cost of energy, rein in economic growth, and rid the world of all those pesky raptors which insist on hovering dangerously next to the splendid spinning turbine blades which are going to save us from global warming?

Lest you think I exaggerate, consider the RSPB’s latest flight of lunacy. It is currently applying for planning permission to adorn its nature reserve HQ in Sandy, Bedfordshire, with a 100-metre wind turbine. The RSPB claims ‘it is the single biggest step we can take to reduce our carbon emissions’. Yes, but what about the woodpecker, the great tit, the hobby, and the nuthatch, which the RSPB lists as the reserve’s star attractions: where exactly do they fit into this exciting new plan?

According to the Spanish conservation charity SEO/Birdlife, a typical wind turbine kills between 110 and 330 birds per year. Other research from Sweden puts the mortality rate as high as 895. But let’s give the RSPB the benefit of the doubt and put it at the lower end of the scale. That still means two birds totalled by the RSPB every week. These will nicely complement the average four birds a week killed by the two turbines on the RSPB’s other reserves. Not to mention the many hundreds more sliced and diced by turbines belonging to the RSPB’s current favoured renewable energy partner, Dale Vince of Ecotricity. And the hundreds more chopped and mashed by the RSPB’s previous business partner, Scottish and Southern Electricity (SSE) — including, last year, at least two rare hen harriers.

These partnerships are a lucrative business for the RSPB. Over a period of ten years, it admits to having made around a million pounds from its association with SSE. No doubt it hopes to achieve similar success with its current arrangement, whereby the RSPB will receive £60 for every member who signs up for a dual-fuel account with Ecotricity, and another £40 when members open an account with Triodos bank, which finances many renewable industry projects including wind.

Again, though: what about the birds? When I spoke to the RSPB’s conservation director Martin Harper, he said: ‘We are a conservation body and our belief is that climate change is the biggest threat facing wildlife today.’ I asked him what evidence he had for a claim which has looked increasingly out-of-touch since ‘global warming’ began its long pause in 1997. Harper referred me to a 2004 study, published in Nature, which said that 15 to 37 per cent of species were ‘committed to extinction’ by 2050 unless immediate action were taken to tackle climate change. (To give you an idea how utterly implausible this scenario is, consider this: in the last 500 years the total number of mammal species that have gone extinct is 61 and the total number of bird species is 129.)

So when, exactly, did the RSPB transform itself from Britain’s foremost — and much loved — ornithological charity into yet another left-leaning environmentalist advocacy group? The rot seems to have set in under Sir Graham Wynne (chief executive 1998-2010, now a trustee of the Green Alliance) and its former conservation director (2008 to 2013) Mark Avery, a Labour party member and pro-wind farm campaigner. Since then, the RSPB appears to have been infiltrated by more militant entryists than Derek-Hatton-era Liverpool City Council.

More than a third of its members have links to the green movement, led by a president, the former Springwatch -presenter Kate Humble, who’s a big fan of wind energy, a chief executive, Mike Clarke, who campaigns for ‘the integration of the environment and the economy’ and a chairman, Steve Ormerod, who is a professor of ecology specialising in the effects of climate change on freshwater ecosystems.

What’s wrong with being ‘green’? Absolutely nothing, if it meant what most of the RSPB’s million-plus members probably think it means — preserving the natural landscape, caring for wildlife, stopping birds and bats being liquidised by giant Magimixes on stilts, that kind of thing. If only…

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  • BlueCrashDive

    Says it all.

  • E Hart

    Cock. There’s a bird for you. The biggest causes of death for birds are in order: windows, cats, electricity cables, communication masts, pesticides, cars, hunting (all forms – birdlime, shooting, trapping…), oil waste… wind turbines are down in the negligible sector with oils spills and electrocution. Of course, it doesn’t help to create yet another cause of death but this is one of the lesser spotted culprits.

    Also, apart from the hobby, all the birds at Sandy are low fliers and woodland birds. You are going to see them on open ground because that’s not their habitat.

    • BlueScreenOfDeath

      Cock to you too.

      So because cars involved in road traffic accidents kill orders of magnitude more humans than serial killers, by your logic we should ignore serial killers.

      As for the number of birds taken by cats, the RSPB itself disagrees with you, and states that the vast majority of such are sick or elderly specimens, whereas wind turbines kill fit, predominantly healthy birds.


      • John Morgan

        I don’t see a lack of effort being made to cut down road deaths, with more policing time and money spent on that than any other. So the logic of E. Hart is ‘grey’ rather than black-and-white.

        Surely the point we need to address is the affect on populations. In the case of certain large birds of prey, and particularly in the case of bats, wind turbines are a bigger disaster than any of the others listed. One might suspect chutzpah amongst the upper echelons of the RSPB is causing foot-dragging when these issues are raised.

        By-the-way, the swift was a Needletail.

  • fly_fisher

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. That old saying was one of the most nonsensical things my mother ever said to me when I was young. Then I grew up and I wish many of the people who care about the environment would too, intent with flowery rationalizations does not excuse the abuse of society.

    JD: this Winter when the elderly start dying off due to fuel poverty, you should have funeral announcements made up without the names and sent to every ‘Green’ energy subsidy recipient. Including the rank and file of the RPSB.

  • EWorrall

    I’m tempted to put together a mobile app, to allow people to map locations and pictures of dead birds killed by wind turbines.

    If you would be interested in using such an app, please email me deadbirds@desirableapps.com .

    • John Morgan

      You won’t find too many. Foxes and other scavengers usually get there first.

  • Breakingwind

    Never mind the birds, the RSPB are in it for the money,

    see how much wind farmers make – Look these OFGEM subsidy
    figs – http://www.variablepitch.co.uk/finance/

    Look at the facts –

    Are they a good investment for the developer – YES

    Do they cost us money -YES

    Are the subsidies a scam – YES

    Do they cut CO2 – NO

    Do they give reliable energy – NO

    Do they give energy security – NO

    Are they fit for purpose – NO

    Should we build more – NO

    They are the wrong technology for the job, chosen by ill-informed politicians, not engineers.

    According to uk government figs; just the subsity cost to the consumer will be about £4.3billion in 2015/16 (for 5% of electricity),

    Rising to £7.6 billion in 2020/21. see- https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-energy-infrastructure-investment-to-fuel-recovery

    To see how little we get for our money, (just 1.3% from
    5,000+ turdbins as I write this)

    see this – Interactive switch-able graph showing Live UK
    Grid status – demand & generation by all fuels + history.

    (top line = demand, bottom green line = wind )


    pop that link in favorites & check daily.

    • dalai guevara

      The age-old arguments.
      Did no one tell you that it’s the Yeo Cons that own the land, and sponge the subsidies? The Greens don’t own a single blade in Britain.

  • ChilliKwok

    > The RSPB claims ‘it s the single biggest step we can take to reduce
    > our carbon emissions’. Yes but….

    NO but!!! This claim is false and should not be blindly accepted by windfarm opponents. Why? The windturbine output is highly intermittent (averaging only 25% due to windspeed variation). For 75% of the time when the wind is not blowing at optimum speed, the shortfall in output will be made up by highly inefficient and polluting diesel generators. These produce 3x as much CO2 per KHW as would otherwise be produced by a conventional CCGT powerstation. So windturbines do not reduce CO2 since whatever fuel/CO2 they save is more than offset by the extra fuel/CO2 required to backup their inttermittent erratic output.

    • John Morgan

      Except that the author of this article invariably proposes in his ‘Op-eds’ that less CO2 released into the atmosphere would be a false benefit to society, and more CO2 will have no consequences.

  • dalai guevara

    A case made for the demolition of the shard, big oil man? Note my graphics!

  • Could the powers that be that Spectator please prevail upon James to provide links to the sources of his statistics? According to the RSPB:

    “The most recent figures are from the Mammal Society, which estimates
    that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which
    55 million are birds. This is the number of prey items that were known
    to have been caught; we don’t know how many more the cats caught, but
    didn’t bring home, or how many escaped but subsequently died.”


    How many does that work out to per “typical wind turbine” per annum James?

  • Facebook User

    When I read about the RSPB’s political loony-green political agenda I cancelled my membership after 40 years. Much better put the money into buying peanuts to feed the local birds or into a local anti windfarm group than give it to these politically driven blinkered zealots.

  • Jim. D.

    Let me see, now….the support pillars are made of aluminium, they’re set on concrete,accessible by a tarred road, the gearboxes are filled with oil and they’re connected to the electricity grid by copper cabling? Gee…they’d be screwed without mining and smelting, wouldn’t they?

  • braqueish

    All modern bird species (and, indeed wildlife species) have survived at least one ice age (when there was 3km of ice on top of current RSPB reserves). The utter absurdity of the RSPB sacrificing birds to “prevent extinction” is that birds, of all creatures, are fantastically mobile (they can fly). If climate change causes marginal alterations to habitat zones the bird will, er, move to more suitable locations. No panic-filled climate change scenario is a patch on the global disruption that will be caused by the next ice age. More likely is that the RSPB is simply cashing-in while spouting this holier than thou claptrap. Shame on them.

  • Jonn Barnes

    It amazes me that you can actually write for a well thought of magazine and yet have your facts so utterly wrong. You should move to Hollywood. You’d do really well there. As they say in those parts “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story”. Why, if you were sitting a school GCSE exam you might even get an F-Grade for your comprehension of the subject matter. Don’t let Mr Gove hear about you and your successes in life . His whole re schooling of the UK might have to go straight in the bin. You’d be the perfect example of how failure to understand and lack of effort can still bring you success . Do you know what. I might even apply for a job with your magazine; it looks like a complete doddle on reading this article.

  • Jonn Barnes

    Oh. And just incase you didn’t know already if you select a load of text on a webpage and press CTRL C you can copy it all. And then if you press CTRL V it’ll paste it into the article you are writing. That way you don’t even have to think about what goes into your prose and it potentially could give you the benefit of actually doing some meaningful research. Thinking about it, that’s probably not in your job spec, so ditch that idea. Sorry.