In response to concerns over climate change, the UK Government has set a target of a 60% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. It is proposed that this target will be achieved in part by switching energy generation from the burning of fossil fuels to forms of generation with lower carbon dioxide emissions, such as renewables. The UK has a target for 10% of its energy to be generated from renewable sources by 2010, and the equivalent target for Scotland is 20%. In 2002, the UK Government introduced the Renewables Obligation, and associated Renewables Obligation (Scotland), a market support mechanism, which requires that power suppliers must source increasing amounts of their energy from renewables. Wind is currently the cheapest and most technologically advanced form of renewable energy, and thus the Renewables Obligation has led to a huge increase in the number of wind farm proposals. The wind resource, coupled with reluctance to have wind farms close to habitation, has led to many of these sites being in the uplands. Scotland contains a large area of upland habitat and has the highest number of schemes being considered for planning proposals of any of the UK countries. Scotland's upland habitat supports many important populations of birds of conservation concern, and this, combined with the negative effects wind farms can have on birds, leads to potential conflict.
In order to help minimise this conflict, a bird sensitivity map to aid location of onshore wind farms in Scotland has been created, based on distributional data for a suite of sensitive bird species. Species included on the map are either listed on Annex I of the EU Birds Directive, and/or are species of conservation concern with known or suspected susceptibility to the effects of wind turbines on birds, notably collision mortality and disturbance displacement. The sensitivity map has been produced at a 1km square resolution, with each 1km square in Scotland being assigned one of three sensitivity ratings. These sensitivity ratings were assigned following reviews of literature and best available information for each species on foraging ranges, collision risk, disturbance distances and other relevant features of behavioural and population ecology, to develop 'sensitivity criteria' to determine appropriate buffering distances to apply to the distributional data for birds.
The map indicates that there is a greater incidence of bird sensitivities in north-west Scotland. Particularly sensitive areas occur in the Highlands, Western Isles and Northern Isles. Thirty seven percent of the area on the map is classified a 'high sensitivity' (31 418 1km squares), thirty one percent as 'medium' (26 358 1km squares) and thirty two percent as 'low/unknown sensitivity' (26 813 1km squares).