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« Concerto for a rainy day | Main | Pielke Jr on politicised science »

Extinction expert says windfarms hasten extinctions

Clive Hambler, a lecturer at Oxford University and the author of an important textbook on conservation, has written an important article at the Spectator on the effects on windfarms on wildlife.  It looks as if the "bird-blender" name is well-deserved:

My speciality is species extinction. When I was a child, my father used to tell me about all the animals he’d seen growing up in Kent — the grass snakes, the lime hawk moths — and what shocked me when we went looking for them was how few there were left. Species extinction is a serious issue: around the world we’re losing up to 40 a day. Yet environmentalists are urging us to adopt technologies that are hastening this process. Among the most destructive of these is wind power.

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Reader Comments (52)

How about this for a powerful ending?

... the ongoing obsession with climate change means that many environmentalists are turning a blind eye to the ecological costs of renewable energy. What they clearly don’t appreciate — for they know next to nothing about biology — is that most of the species they claim are threatened by ‘climate change’ have already survived 10 to 20 ice ages, and sea-level rises far more dramatic than any we have experienced in recent millennia or expect in the next few centuries. Climate change won’t drive those species to extinction; well-meaning environmentalists might.

About time the real environmentalists stood up. That was always going to be a tricky moment for the climate change obsessives.

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:30 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Unfortunately the 'forty-a-day' meme is itself part of a politicised agenda. While it's nice to see conservationsists actually taking a stand against wind power, it's not helpful if they do it by spreading misinformation. See for instance.

When confronted by this kind of claim, an appropriate response is "Name one."

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJon Jermey

Environmentalism is not conservationism Environmentalism is a religion.

No matter the cost, the "end" justifies the means! The mantra of extremism.

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

Senna the Soothsayer the Met Orifice, said: "The trend towards more extreme rainfall events is one we are seeing around the world, in countries such as India and China, and now potentially here in the UK.

But why have you cherry picked 1960-2012 and not shown the trend since records began?

Jan 3, 2013 at 8:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

Jon Jermey: without either knowing your credentials or knowing anything about the real science of extinctions I'm inclined to take your word both for the fact that the field is highly politicised and that the forty extinctions a day is a highly dubious claim.

Even so, this is a great article against wind power and I take the same view as with anyone who gets involved in a political campaign with which I agree - in this case, to remove all subsidies, of whatever deceitful kind, for wind. Many of the people interviewed in Ben Pile's excellent polemic against wind were complaining because a real or proposed wind farm was in their own backyard. This guy may partly be complaining because the climate change obsessives and renewables rent-seekers have eaten up so much of the budget that he thinks should have gone into his area. Mixed motives abound in every issue in a democracy. But I know when I see someone which whom I can do business. Down the road there may of course need to be a parting of the ways on other matters.

Jan 3, 2013 at 9:10 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

The direct impacts of all energy production (wind, nuclear, fossil fuel, whatever) on biodiversity is of great interest to me for my IPCC chapter, so if anyone can point to peer-reviewed literature on this, I'd be very grateful. From what we have so far, for every paper that makes a claim about effects of wind farms or coal-fired power stations on wildlife, there's another saying that the previous paper had methodological flaws,or the situation is too complex or sparse of data to draw meaningful conclusions. Any help (preferably in the form of links to peer-reviewed papers) would be appreciated!

Jan 3, 2013 at 9:16 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

RB: >> there's another saying that the previous paper had methodological flaws,or the situation is too complex or sparse of data to draw meaningful conclusions<<

This is always going to happen where studies attempt to measure 'biodiversity'.

Have you looked at any papers that challenge the idea of biodiversity, or even any that attempt to establish that it is a useful concept?

Jan 3, 2013 at 9:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

Channel 4 News had the Met Office press release about the 'Second Wettest Year on Record' as its top story tonight (3/1/13). It was an utterly, shameless piece of alarmist propaganda. Move over BBC, you are no longer in the driver's seat.

Jan 3, 2013 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered Commentercolin maclean

40 a day? Willis, are you there? There MUST be some corpses for you in the UK.

Jan 3, 2013 at 9:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Fraser

Ben Pile

Sorry, I said that wrong - I didn't mean impacts on "biodiversity" as an entity, I should have said impacts on "wildlife" - i.e.: any papers which quantify bird and bat mortality due to windfarms, and anything similar for nuclear or coal-fired power stations, impacts of tidal barrages etc. Just anything quantitative and reliable on the impacts of energy production on extinction risk.

Jan 3, 2013 at 10:09 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

As a 'forty a day' man, I can easily compute my cigarette consumption by enumerating the stubs in my ash-tray.
Is there an equivalent 'ash-tray' for counting the corpses of extincted species made defunct by 'forty a day' Man?

Jan 3, 2013 at 10:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

40 per day. That's about 175,000 since the turn of the century.

Jan 3, 2013 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterron van wegen

Hello and Happy New Year Richard.

Care to comment about the Met Office's dismal record over the last few years in their predictions/projections/forecasts of more wet/dry, cold/warm and wind/calm?

See the "Water, Water Everywhere" post for background.

Also look at the (peer-reviewed) paper highlighted today in Watts Up With That.- Basically the statistical analysis shows that AGW has a very low probability of any long-term effect on climate.


Jan 3, 2013 at 11:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Richard Betts, the question you should be asking is - where is the list of the 40 per day (or week, or month) that keep getting thrown around? What species, where, when, why? Limiting your search to energy production would make it even more difficult to prove anything of the kind, and that is perhaps reasonable. But the argument that is being run is not just about production, but about energy use, and human activity generally.

As Willis asked, where are the bodies?

Jan 3, 2013 at 11:27 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

@johanna The corpses (bats and birds) are shovelled up each morning.
They are then carted off to be burnt and the energy released is credited to the windfarm.

Jan 3, 2013 at 11:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Species extinction - a branch of the green movement which is even less credible than the warmies.

what shocked me when we went looking for them was how few there were left

What sort of scientist thinks that this is a valid method? Actually most extinctionists seem to. "We counted x of them last year when we went out and looked around randomly, this year we couldn't find any so they are going extinct." You know that in many cases the counting was done by a bored vacation placement student who made the numbers up in the pub when it started to rain.

This is the crowd who are telling us that they know there are only 50 pure Scottish Wildcats left in the entire Highlands, as if there was any credible way of knowing that.

Then he goes on to rightly point out that climate change won't do SFA for species extinction - but then claims that wind turbines might.

Jan 3, 2013 at 11:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

Don Keiller

Happy New Year to you too!

Seasonal forecasting for the UK, especially for precipitation, continues to be much more challenging than in regions such as NE Brazil and W Africa, where there are strong teleconnections to sea surface temperatures which allow predictability to be high. This is why the Met Office's seasonal forecasts for the UK are heavily caveated and only intended for use by contingency planners - they are recognised as not being useful for the public, and no claims are made about that any more. The MO really learnt it's lesson after the BBQ summer :-)

I've read the Beenstock et al paper - I'm on the editorial board of Earth System Dynamics, although I didn't handle that paper and wasn't aware of it until it was accepted, so played no role in its publication. I'll be honest and say that the statistics are outside my field of expertise, although several people with more expertise than me (including someone who has actually worked in Beenstock's field) tell me they are not convinced. It also turns out that it was previously reviewed for another journal (at least once), rejected and resubmitted without changes. It's disappointing that someone would go journal-shopping instead of actually addressing reviewers' comments. The ESD reviewers did seem to give the paper a somewhat easy time (the reviews are here as ESD is an open-access journal).

Jan 4, 2013 at 12:21 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts


Thanks, yes, that too is an interesting question and I would like the answer to that, but it's not so directly relevant to my specific IPCC task, as I don't believe there are any credible cases of extinctions already taking place due to anthropogenic climate change (not yet anyway - there are probably significant risks for the future, although I don't think they can be reliably quantified). There was a famous example of the golden toad in Costa Rica that was reputed to be the first AGW-extinction, but more recent work showed it was just El Nino wot dunnit :-)

The impact of energy production on extinctions related to the question of unintended consequences of climate change mitigation. If we cover the landscape in windfarms, what does this do to extinction risks - and to be a fair comparison, how do extinctions per kWh from wind compare with (say) those from fossil fuel power stations? This directly speaks to the Bish's point in his post - does a move to windpower increase extinction risks? What is the actual evidence for / against this? I guess I should speak directly to Clive Hambler about where he gets his number as he's quoted above - but I just thought I'd try a bitof crowd-sourcing here first. However I've obviously chosen a bad time as everyone is going nuts about the wet weather stats that came out today!

Jan 4, 2013 at 12:30 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

RB - this is obviously grey literature but it details how one windfarm in Norway (Smola) killed 40 sea eagles in 5 years:

Markus Jais: What other threats to White-tailed Eagles do exist in Norway?
Alv Ottar Folkestad: During the history it has time and again been demonstrated that the main threats to the White-tailed Eagle are connected to human activity, directly or less directly. For about a century and a half it was persecution. Today it is land use in different ways, forestry, tourist industry, boating, and hiking, but what to me is a really scaring prospective is the way wind power development has been introduced in this country. The first wind power plant of significant size in Norway, on Smøla, is localized into the most spectacular performance of nesting concentration of White-tailed Eagles ever known. There are plans for making wind power into huge dimensions, and most of them localized in the most pristine coastal landscape of the most important areas of the White-tailed Eagle. During the last five and a half years, the wind power plant on Smøla has been killing 40 white-tailed eagles, 27 of them adult or sub adult birds, and 11 of them during 2010. There are no mitigating measures taken so far, and hardly any to think of, and there is no indication of adaptation among the eagles to such constructions.
Source: Interview with Alv Ottar Folkestad, European Raptors, Biology and Conservation, 2011

The new windfarm in my area (operating for just over a year) has already killed one hen harrier and another raptor (and possibly more). The hen harrier is an Annex 1 species, and as such should have been protected under UK and EU laws. But both RSBP Scotland and SNH refused to object to the windfarm at the public inquiry, and to this day cite the importance of "combating climate change which is the biggest threat to nature..." as justification for the bird mortalities.

Yes, the Met Office press release was disgraceful - 60 years is a snapshot, Scotland had an average rainfall year (so does that mean that a little extra CO2 is affecting England but not us?), and in any case nothing we have seen in the last 50 years is anything unprecedented, or unusual compared with for example the weather experienced in 1750 to 1799. Your colleagues appear to be ignorant of UK climate history, natural variation, and guilty of shameless and baseless alarmist cherrypicking.

Jan 4, 2013 at 1:08 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Don - thanks, that explains a lot.

Richard, fair enough. I imagine that you are a very busy guy and can't go chasing every rabbit down every hole. But I hope you will keep the question in the back of your mind when you are evaluating any material that you can find which is relevant to your particular brief.

Jan 4, 2013 at 1:34 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

"It's disappointing that someone would go journal-shopping instead of actually addressing reviewers' comments."

Hi Richard, agree totally, which means that I've always taken the "peer-reviewed" literature with a pinch of salt. I believe your attempt at finding anything like empirical evidence in the literature will be as fruitless as expecting any forecast, or comment, on the weather from the MO to be anything other than a puff for the theory of CAGW.

The 40-a-day is just as likely to be as accurate as the 5-a-day, i.e. made up on the spur of the moment.

Good to see you back though, don't take my comments about the MO to mean everyone who works there, I've a great admiration for scientists of all sorts, but having mixed with some the admiration is tempered by knowledge that some of them, like the rest of us, are motivated by things other than the purity of the science.

Jan 4, 2013 at 2:40 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Nature, red in tooth and claw, has a wonderful way of eating bird and bat kills at the base of wind turbines before anybody can get there to count them.

Jan 4, 2013 at 7:11 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Odd how 'dioxide' has gone missing from carbon, 'anthropogenic' from global warming, 'alkaline' from seawater and 'natural' from species extinction. Is this to make it easier to accept when ''world' goes missing from government and 'anti' from science?

Jan 4, 2013 at 7:29 AM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Prime example here:

Jan 4, 2013 at 8:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeal Asher

Does anyone know of any instances where climate change has killed any rare native birds (excluding windmills etc)?


Jan 4, 2013 at 9:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

@ Mailman - no, not to my knowledge, and I am sure the RSBP would have made the most of it if it had. The species which are most susceptible to any 'warming', are the snow bunting and dotterel, which inhabit the high plateaux of the Monaruaidh (aka the Cairngorms). The fear is that the snow fields will diminish such that these sub-arctic species will have nowhere to go. I think the run of mild winters in the 1990s and early 2000s made it easy for the alarmists, but there has been no shortage of snow cover in more recent winters.

More weather than climate but I notice there is no shortage of snow in the US just now. However, Alaska does appear to be cooling again.

Jan 4, 2013 at 9:57 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

@Richard at least the Beenstock et al paper does not appear to have been subject to a "pal-review", in that it was initially rejected, You then go on to accuse the authors of "journal-shopping" implying unprofessionalism on their part.

Do you not agree that there is much rubbish published in Climate Science, provided it supports the current paradigm?

I take it then that you will not be pressing for Beenstock et al to be included in AR5?

By the way Richard it is not just precipitation that the Met Office has problems with-
Prediction is hard-particularly of the future and so it would seem (for GCMs) with the past also.

Jan 4, 2013 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

For sure about the birds, but what about the Coleoptora's?

Jan 4, 2013 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterDeNihilist


Presumably you mean beetles (coleopterans)? Given how tough they are when we deliberately target when we find them eating our food supplies (e.g. see:, I'd hazard a guess that they're not particularly threatened as an order. Any evidence otherwise?

Jan 4, 2013 at 3:03 PM | Registered CommenterSayNoToFearmongers


I'm not implying anything, I'm just saying that I am disappointed that the authors apparently chose to ignore the comments of scientific peers instead of addressing them. This weakens the paper as there are criticisms that have not been responded to. If the authors had been able to write a rebuttal of the objections raised by referees in the other journal, the current paper would be much stronger. The papers I am most proud of myself are those that were hardest to get through review because of constant to-and-fro with referees - in the end this led to much stronger papers, even though it was a pain at the time.

I think most climate science literature is good-quality, although as with any field there is a range of quality. From my own experience as an editor and reviewer (who also sees other people's reviews when papers are returned with revisions) I don't think it is common for papers to be given an easy time just because they "support the current paradigm". This is where open access papers like ESD are good, because people can see whether the referees did a thorough job or not.

Inclusion of the paper in AR5 will be up to the authors of the relevant chapter in WG1.

Jan 4, 2013 at 3:26 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

@Richard "I think most climate science literature is good quality"
So you endorse Mann's "Hockey Stick" papers, the Antarctic warming paper of Steig et al. and papers written by the likes of Phil Jones, who have consistently refused to supply raw data and algorithms?
What about the use of "grey" literature in IPCC reports?

The list of poor academic practice in climate science is, in my opinion, very long.
Is this just my opinion, or is it one that you share?

Jan 4, 2013 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Jan 4, 2013 at 12:21 AM | Richard Betts

"The MO really learnt it's lesson after the BBQ summer :-)"

Do you think so Richard?

Met Office forecast, 23rd March 2012

"The forecast for average UK rainfall slightly favours drier than average conditions for AprilMayJune
as a whole, and also slightly favours April being the driest of the 3 months."

In any other business this would be a monumental cock-up. Not only that, but undeterred by the fact that the forecast was 100% out of kilter with the subsequent weather bods from the Met Office are going around telling the people that this is weather we're getting because of global warming. It may be, but for sure nobody knows for certain and no one in the Met Office is even hinting that there are uncertainties, the rain has been taken as an opportunity to spread further panic in the ranks of the plebs. As was the snow, the warm weather, the drought, the, well, any weather conditions really.

Jan 4, 2013 at 4:21 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Hi Don, I'm sorry, but once again my attempts to have a proper scientific discussion on a subject that was 100% on-topic with the original post of this thread seem to be being diverted onto a completely different topic. I really do not have the time to repeatedly discuss the quality of the whole of climate science, especially papers that are nearly 15 years old now - I'd rather focus on making my own contributions as good as they can be.

Hi Geronimo, on the contrary, the contingency forecast that you quote was laded with caveats and it is clearly stated that these are not intended to inform the general public - see here which says:

This product provides some limited guidance on potential variance from climatology i.e. possible change from what is typical for UK weather.

It is however an emerging and cutting edge area of science and users are encouraged to consult our shorter range and climatological guidance before committing resources or taking action.


Watching brief only, not used to inform immediate action or for committing resources.

I also think the communication over the recent wet weather has also been cautious - you have over-stated the extent to which is this being said by the Met Office to be "because of global warming". It has merely been said that we do expect more intense precipitation in a warming world. Maybe some journalists have gone further than that, but that's not the Met Office.

Anyway, all this is off-topic for this thread. Then again I suppose you are merely taking the opportunity to ask me stuff about the wet weather here because I stayed out of the thread on that topic when I saw Stephen Richards calling my colleagues and I "scumbags".

Anyway I'm off home shortly and won't be online this weekend. Next week will also be limited or zero blogging for me as I start to get submerged in IPCC writing again. Thanks for the responses on windfarms and wildlife.

Jan 4, 2013 at 5:19 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

Richard, I dont think it's true that the Beenstock etal paper was resubmitted without any changes (who told you it was?) James Annan has links to earlier versions on his site and they look different. First submission was to Nature, very unwise.

Jan 4, 2013 at 5:28 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Hi Paul

It was someone who reviewed it for another journal (not Nature).

Jan 4, 2013 at 5:33 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

I didn't realise wind turbines were killing grass snakes.

Jan 4, 2013 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterScotsRenewables

Richard Betts,
I'm much relieved that your observation that the paper was resubmitted to another journal without having responded to earlier critiques was based on knowing (via your friend) that they had so done. It seemed possible that the authors thought the reviews not on point and so ignored them.

You apparently disagreed with them. I had read your earlier remark to suggest that papers should always be adjusted to the referees' comments regardless, which I can't imagine you really believed.

Jan 4, 2013 at 6:17 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

the MO may not have learnt its leasson after the BBQ summer (and subsequent debacles including the 2012 drought) but television weathermen/girls certainly learnt from Michael Fish's no hurricane here forecast. All we ever hear is "don't go out unless you have to" because of wind/rain/snow/hail/for/sun/fill your own in here.

Jan 4, 2013 at 6:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

The New Statesman has been quick off the mark with a denial of the Spectator’s claim
I know that the word “denial” has unpleasant connotations, especially when associated with the counting of corpses. I’ve always been happy to wear my denialist badge with pride. I hope the David Irvine epigone at the NS feels the same way.

Jan 4, 2013 at 11:21 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

@ Richard. Steig et al is not 15 years old.
But that is beside the point.
Do you or do you not endorse Mann's Hockey Stick paper?

Jan 4, 2013 at 11:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Bird blenders?

Jan 5, 2013 at 4:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterJon

Just remembered this.

Jan 5, 2013 at 9:50 AM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

@Richard your silence is deafening.

Jan 5, 2013 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Wow 40 species a day gone forever. That is 14,600 species a year. I'm 55 so that means 8,030,000 species have gone extinct in my lifetime. Since there are only ~8.7 million species on the planet then I guess I'll live to see everything else die, well that or someone's math ain't cuttin it...

Jan 5, 2013 at 5:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterBK Mart

BK Mart, since I am "only" 50, the math was easier for me (multiply by 100 and divide by 2). Your result is 10x too high.

Jan 6, 2013 at 6:36 AM | Unregistered Commentereric (skeptic)

Don Keiller, with respect, sir, in times like these I wish you contributed to the debate more like a scientist than a grumpy internet activist with an axe to grind.

Jan 6, 2013 at 7:07 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

The Observer has an editorial in praise of windfarms, with commenting enabled, at

Jan 6, 2013 at 7:52 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Jan 4, 2013 at 3:26 PM | Richard Betts

I'm just saying that I am disappointed that the authors apparently chose to ignore the comments of scientific peers instead of addressing them. This weakens the paper as there are criticisms that have not been responded to.
Inclusion of the paper in AR5 will be up to the authors of the relevant chapter in WG1.

Speaking of "ignoring comments", authors, AR5 (and its predecessors) ... I do wonder ... is it only the comments of those you would deem to be "scientific peers" whose criticisms are worthy of consideration?

And I also wonder why it is that you choose to expend so many words explaining why you will not answer Don Keiller's very simple questions:

So you endorse Mann's "Hockey Stick" papers, the Antarctic warming paper of Steig et al. and papers written by the likes of Phil Jones, who have consistently refused to supply raw data and algorithms?

What about the use of "grey" literature in IPCC reports?

The list of poor academic practice in climate science is, in my opinion, very long.

Is this just my opinion, or is it one that you share?

rather than actually address them.

Surely even an avid tweeter and self-confessed blogpost "skimmer" - such as you have frequently reminded us that you are - could spare a few keystrokes of responsive reply.

Ooops ... too late to this party, I guess, considering your advance notice [Jan 4, 2013 at 5:19 PM]:

won't be online this weekend. Next week will also be limited or zero blogging for me as I start to get submerged in IPCC writing again.

Oh, well ... c'est la vie en Cyberspace!

Jan 6, 2013 at 9:45 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

@shx when you have had as many direct dealings with "climate scientists" and their highly paid briefs, as I have, I suspect that you would be rather more cynical of their motives.
If that cynicism manifests itself as "a grumpy internet activist with an axe to grind" then I apologise.

Jan 6, 2013 at 5:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

'40 a day' came from a wild guesstimate made by Norman Myers in 1979.
Lomborg covers the origins of this in the Skeptical Environmentalist pp252ff. It has no basis in fact. No one knows how many species there are - guesstimates run from 3 million to 80 million.
I am astonished that an extintions 'expert' would quote this figure. I worry that his other figures might also be grossly exaggerated.

Jan 6, 2013 at 8:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

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