RSPB Scotland scientists have claimed that a Sutherland windfarm has caused a significant reduction in the number of breeding birds in the area.

The scientists, funded by SSE, studied golden plovers at the Gordonbush wind farm in Sutherland for five years, before, during and after construction. They have now reported that numbers of the plover, which are protected under the European Birds Directive, dropped by 80% within the wind farm during the first two years of operation - declines markedly greater than on areas neighbouring the wind farm.

Lead researcher Dr Alex Sansom said: "Golden plovers breed in open landscapes and it is likely that the presence of wind turbines in these areas leads to birds avoiding areas around the turbines. This study shows that such displacement may cause large declines in bird numbers within wind farms. It will be important to examine whether these effects are maintained over the longer term at this site, and we should also use these detailed studies to examine the effects of wind farms on other bird species."

RSPB Scotland's Aedan Smith commented: "We desperately need more renewable energy projects including wind farms to help tackle the causes of climate change, which is harming wildlife in Scotland and across the world. However, it is vital that wind farms, like any development, are sited to avoid harming our most important places for wildlife.

"Fortunately, the vast majority of wind farms pose no significant risk to our wildlife. This important study shows that bird numbers can be seriously affected by badly sited wind farms in more ways than simply colliding with turbine blades, and highlights the importance of getting things right at the outset, so that impacts can be avoided."