LAST month the House of Lords Environment Committee heard evidence about the effects of offshore windfarms on the marine environment. The hearing was notable for revealing signs of concern from the RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) about the devastation that is potentially going to be unleashed on the North Sea, a crime in which they have been complicit because of their silence up until now. Perhaps, after all these years, they are getting close to confronting the evidence of the harm their support for windfarms has done to birds.
The North Sea, RSPB policy officer Helen Quayle told the committee, is ‘littered with cabling from energy infrastructure’, going on to explain that this is a big problem for sandeels, a keystone species which is a staple food for many birds and other fish.
Now she tells us.
It seems that the society’s view is that the North Sea faces ‘an irreversible loss of wildlife’ as a result of offshore wind farm developments, overfishing and (inevitably) climate change.
And this is without considering the possibility that windfarms may soon be an impassable barrier to migratory birds, which, as I’ve pointed out before, may be their worst impact. None of the witnesses mentioned this worry, although there were vague allusions to other problems to come from what another witness, Professor Melanie Austen, called our decision to urbanise the oceans: ‘We are already getting modelling to show that even just extracting that amount of wind energy may have far-field, large-scale effects that we do not really understand and are not considering very deeply.’
However, the conclusion that the RSPB are now very worried about offshore wind and its effect on wildlife seems unavoidable. As the hearing neared its end, Lord Cameron of Dillington repeatedly invited Helen Quayle to support the suggestion that ‘wind farms are one of the best weapons we have against climate change’. She steadfastly refused to do so, instead hedging her response in terms of ‘joint solutions’ and a ‘strategic approach’.
In other words, the RSPB will not explicitly support offshore wind, but they will not take a stand against it either, although they fear the North Sea is on the brink of an ecological disaster. And this is good enough for the Lords’ Environment Committee, whose response to that possible ‘irreversible loss of wildlife’ has been to write a letter to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, asking for better research and more information.
If we are going to cause an environmental catastrophe, I suppose we should at least record all the gory details.