Today’s themes were Cumulative effects, Tools and technology, Mitigation and compensation and Future challenges.

Again, a huge amount of interesting and relevant information which will
immediately be put into practice. Our approach to ecology for wind farm
developments is going to get a right good shake up next week! I’m not
going to go through all the good stuff about measuring and adjusting for
impact, and associated stats – that’s not for this forum, I am going to
take a philosophical direction tonight.

Scott Cole from the Centre for Environment and Resource Economics at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences is an Environmental Economist. His presentation on how to realistically measure the credits and debits of ecology impacts and was exceptionally useful. But one part of his presentation threw up an interesting idea, something to mull over on a long train journey.

He suggested that the application of compensatory measures for wildlife is an issue of human psychology.

First up, I will not assume that you know what “compensation” is. It is a measure that is applied when a negative impact has been identified and after avoidance and mitigation measures have been applied but where there remains an unacceptable residual impact. Makes sense?

Here is an example, say that at a wind farm we know that 300 birds will be killed as a result of flying into moving turbine blades. An avoidance measure could be to identify which turbine is causing the majority of these deaths and take it out of the plan. A mitigation measure might be to paint the remaining turbines so that birds can see them better and fly round. Lets say that these two measures avoid 250 collisions but we are still not happy with the remaining 50 collisions. A compensatory measure could then be applied – for example getting hold of a poor piece of habitat near to our site and making it irresistible to the birds, the plan being that they will become too happy over there to bother with the wind farm any more.

So what’s the problem? Compensation takes time, the habitat has to establish and it will take further time for the birds to move over there even when it is in good condition. So although avoidance and mitigation measures are in place the population will continue to fall at a rate of 50 birds a year. When the birds eventually do move to the compensation site it may take many years to replace the 50 per annum lost during this interim.

Do the birds care about this? No. We don’t ask them. Its people who care about this and a basic thing that all economists and psychologists know is that we do not like to wait for anything and especially not for an identified problem to be fixed. Scott asked, if these birds were white-tailed sea eagles would we rather have 300 tomorrow or 100 in 2035 and 300 in 2050?

Scott argued that compensation is an anthropocentric requirement, the need is not for the birds it is with us. And if it is for us, how much are we prepared to “pay” to have it now?

Something to ponder, eh?