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The Northeast Iceland Nature Research Centre and Aarhus University have conducted an extensive study on birdlife in the area of the proposed turbines at the Búrfell Wind Farm. A total of 18 bird species are believed to nest within the area and its surroundings. Three of these species are on Red List of Threatened Species including the greylag goose, falcon and the raven. The greylag goose is the only endangered species that is believed to nest within the area. The falcon and the raven nest in neighbouring areas.

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Density and migration routes

Wind energy generation is a new form of generation method in Iceland, and Icelanders do not have any experience in birdlife research pertaining to this type of project. Therefore, a decision was made to engage outside expertise and knowledge. The Aarhus University was asked to conduct extensive research in conjunction with the Northeast Iceland Nature Research Centre on birdlife in the area of the proposed wind turbines.

47 bird species were identified in the Búrfell Wind Farm area; mostly migratory birds during the spring and autumn period.

The birdlife study was conducted in 2014 and revealed a total of 47 bird species within the area. Twelve of these bird species are registered on on Red List of Threatened Species. Most of the species were detected by radar during the spring and autumn period when migratory birds entered the area. Fewer birds were detected during the summer period when nesting birds were investigated.

Heathland birds were mostly detected in the northernmost part of the area and were mostly found close to the Sultartangi Reservoir. The westernmost counting station detected the highest number of heathland birds; it recorded 13 species. No more than 6 species were detected at other counting stations. A comparison of proposals 1 and 2 shows that proposal 1 is within an area where the least number of heathland bird species was recorded. Proposal 2, however, includes the area closest to the Sultartangi Reservoir and the westernmost part of the area which had the highest number of heathland birds was recorded.

The number of calculated heathland birds differs tremendously in each proposal. Proposal 1 calculates 257 birds within the area, whereas proposal 2 calculates 816 birds within the area. Proposal 3 is believed to be similar to proposal 1 with regard to the density of nesting birds as these two proposals do not penetrate the more vegetated area close to the Sultartangi Dam (as in proposal 2).

The density of heathland birds within the research area is very low and well below the number generally seen in well vegetated areas in Iceland. This could be attributed to the fact that the research area is poorly vegetated and is located in an upland area. The area is characterised by a lack of species diversity and a low density of nesting birds. The species found in the area are common, both locally and nationally. The research area is therefore not considered to be an important habitat for heathland birds.

An analysis of migratory bird routes mapped the coordinates for 1,853 routes. The results showed that main flight paths headed southwest to northeast (or the opposite) across the area, and the majority of bird flocks flew over the western and northern parts of the research area. A large number of flocks (mostly geese) flew across the Þjórsárdalur Valley and alongside the Hafið area between Skeljafell and Stangarfjall. They then headed past Sandafell and then northeast over the Sultartangi Dam. Flocks were seen entering the area from the opposite direction in early spring, but they mostly followed the same geographical landmarks.

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Bird routes in the spring

Overview map

Bird routes detected with the help of radar within the research area and in neighbouring areas in the spring of 2014.

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Most migratory routes headed southward and eastward during the autumn months and did not follow the main routes of the spring period. The main spring migratory routes were found to be mostly outside the areas outlined in all three proposals in contrast to the autumn migratory routes that are more spread out in the proposals.

However, it should be noted that bird flight height was generally higher during the autumn and did not always follow the prevailing wind direction within the area. This indicates that birds are more likely to stay above the danger area during the autumn period, and their flight path is favourable with regard to the location of wind turbines and prevailing wind direction.

The same number of species could be seen during the autumn period, but the composition varied more. More anseriformes and charadriiformes were detected in the spring but the number of larids and passeriformes increased during the autumn. Flock sizes were generally larger during the autumn.

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Bird routes in the autumn

Overview map

Bird routes detected with the help of radar within the research area and in neighbouring areas in the spring of 2014.

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Impact on birdlife

General

The effects of wind turbines on birdlife can be diverse depending on various factors including turbine location and type of bird species travelling within the area. The main effects of wind turbines on birdlife have been defined internationally and divided into the four following categories:

  • Collision: Represents the most obvious category as birds often collide with wind turbines. Bird fatalities can also occur when birds are thrown to the ground after flying into wind streams created by wind turbine blades.
  • Displacement due to disturbance: When birds avoid wind farm areas and use the area less than before. This can be a result of the actual presence of wind turbines or the traffic and activities associated with them. Displacement mostly occurs during the construction period due to increased disturbance in the area, so it is likely that the disturbance could only be temporary.
  • Barrier effects: Many bird species avoid wind farms altogether or alter their flight path by flying over them, rather than through them. Wind farms can have a negative impact if they close off important flight paths connecting nesting and feeding areas.
  • Habitat loss: Due to land loss as a result of wind turbine structures.

Research shows that wind farms have various impacts on different bird species. The impact on passerines seems to be mostly collision related, whereas the impact on charadriiformes is mostly related to displacement and barrier effects. However, anseriformes are affected by all four categories. Larger birds such as geese are generally thought to pose a greater collision risk than smaller birds, but these are general observations connected with researched species. Variability can occur between species.

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Impact of the Búrfell Wind Farm

Number of bird collisions per year, based on proposal 1

The research conducted by the Northeast Iceland Nature Research Centre and Aarhus University placed a large emphasis on assessing the bird collision risk associated with the proposed wind turbines since extensive numbers of migratory birds were expected during the spring and autumn. An analysis was conducted on the migratory path of the pink-footed goose to its known nesting areas (including the Þjórsárver area). This analysis was to assess whether these flight paths were within the area. Other bird species were also expected within the area, following routes to and from nesting areas in the highlands or on their way between the south and north of Iceland.

The results for proposal 1 showed the number of flocks in danger of collision to be between 3 and 6 per year. The results for proposal 2 were lower, suggesting the number of flocks in danger would range from 1 to 3. The bird collision risk for proposal 3 was thought to be somewhere between the results for proposal 1 and 2. Most of these flocks would be of the pink-footed geese variety and the other most likely flocks would include the golden plover, swans and greylag geese. The bird collision rate would be highest in September since the studied flocks are largest in size during the autumn.

Number of bird collisions per year based on proposal 2

The results for proposal 1 showed the number of birds in danger of collision to range from 6 to 14 birds a year. The results for proposal 2 were lower, suggesting 3 to 7 birds may collide with turbines each year. The bird collision rate is generally at its peak in May and October. The swan casualty rate would peak in October, although these numbers are still generally low. Geese collision rates also peak in October while the casualty rate for the golden plover would reach its peak in both September and October. Researchers came to the conclusion that proposal 3 did not require a specific investigation as it represents a combination of proposals 1 and 2, both of which identify a low bird casualty rate.

The overall results indicate that the risk of bird collision is generally low for the proposed Búrfell Wind Farm, and the potential bird casualty rate is also low with regard to the proposed turbines at the location.

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The greylag goose, falcon and raven, all listed on the Red List of Threatened Species, nest within and around the research area. None of these are considered to be in any particular danger in regards to the proposed wind turbines, and no measurable difference was identified for the species between the three wind farm proposals. The density of heathland birds is very low within the research area. The species identified within the area are all common bird species, and the populations are large on both a local and national scale. The potential displacement risk and habitat loss risk posed by the wind turbines is therefore considered very low. There will be somewhat of a collision risk to nesting birds, but the risk will be greater to the golden plover since it traverses flight paths at wind turbine height. However, the low density of nesting birds makes it unlikely that these collisions will frequently occur. This is the case in all three proposals, but it should be noted that the density of heathland birds is greater in proposal 2 than in proposals 1 and 3. Thus, the effects of the wind turbines on nesting birds would be greater in proposal 2. The impact of the Búrfell Wind Farm on nesting bird species at the local and national level is, therefore, considered to be insignificant.

The results indicate that the collision frequency of migrating birds is low at the proposed Búrfell Wind Farm. The main spring migratory route of the pink-footed goose seems to be closer to and within the area outlined in proposal 2. Therefore, proposals 1 and 3 are better options with regard to migratory birds.

The results of the species analysis show that pink-footed geese are the most common migratory bird. The golden plover, greylag goose and swan are also commonly found in the area. The pink-footed goose and greylag goose populations are very large and have grown over the last few years. The golden plover and swan populations are also large, and both species are commonly found across the country. The Búrfell Wind Farm is unlikely to have much of an impact on these species at a local or national level.

The development of the Búrfell Wind Farm will have a directly negative impact on nesting birds within the area and on migratory routes. This will subsequently create a collision risk with wind turbines. However, extensive research data shows that the scope and weight of the overall impact is considered insignificant. Therefore, the impact on birdlife is also considered insignificant.

The overall results indicate that the Búrfell Wind Farm will have a low impact on birdlife in all three proposals. Proposals 1 and 3 are considered to be better than proposal 2 with regard to nesting birds because of their low density in the area, but nesting density is in fact considered very low in the entire area. The collision risk of migratory birds is greater in proposal 1 than in proposal 2. The risk caused by proposal 3 is estimated to be somewhere between proposals 1 and 2. The spring migration patterns of birds indicate that the main flight path lies northeast and on either side of Sandafell, which would indicate that proposal 1 is the best option and proposal 2 the worst.

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Mitigation measures

Birdlife studies have shown that mitigation measures to protect birdlife will not be required for the development of the Búrfell Wind Farm. 

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Búrfellslundur Wind Farm EIA report

The Búrfellslundur Wind Farm EIA report can be accessed here.
Further discussion on birdlife is in chapter 7.6

EIA report

186 MB PDF

Birds

9,8 MB PDF

Birds proposal 3

5,7 MB PDF