The amazing needless tale of a swift

By Aviceda [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Aviceda [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
You couldn’t make it up.

A rare bird, not seen in the UK for 22 years is spotted by a string of experienced birders in the north of Scotland and the twitching community get on the move.  And then the bird, a member of a group that one would put near the top of one’s list of adept fliers,  is seen to fly into a wind turbine and fall dead to the ground.

There is an excellent  detailed account here for birders.  And this was the Daily Mail’s take on things.  Here is Mark Cocker’s account too.

That’s the sad story of the 8th UK (?)  record of white-throated needletail or needletailed swift.

As John Donne almost said; Any swift’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in swift-kind.  And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee.

And then, unsurprisingly, we got into a debate about the pros and cons of wind energy (see here and this is different and lots of stuff on Twitter at the time, oh yes, and this).  Enter from stage left what I imagine to be a slightly bemused Harry Huyton, the RSPB’s climate change man.  I know Harry and he’s a top bloke – even if not exactly a top birder.  Harry’s take on the whole incident (the RSPB’s take on it) is worth reading.

If I hadn’t spent the last few weeks flying across the Atlantic and driving all over the USA I would say something about carbon, but I don’t really feel in a good position to do that right now…

…although, prompted by all this talk of being swift and carbon, and filled with a certain amount of guilt about all those miles in the USA, I have filled in the form which will switch my electricity and gas supply to Ecotricity and I am glad that the RSPB will get up to (what does that mean?) £60 from Ecotricity as a result.  Maybe you should do the same – swiftly?


From another dead Swift;

  • Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.
  • Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.
  • There is nothing in this world constant, but inconstancy.
  • I love good creditable acquaintance; I love to be the worst of the company.
  • …one enemy can do more hurt, than ten friends can do good.
  • But nothing is so hard for those who abound in riches, as to conceive how others can be in want.
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17 Replies to “The amazing needless tale of a swift”

  1. Undoubtedly a great PR opportunity for the anti wind turbine lobby even though the conservation significance of the death of a bird that was so far away from its normal range (and the opportunity to meet and mate with others of its kind) was precisely nil.
    Clearly wind farms do sometimes kill birds and need to be carefully located as, in the wrong place, they can potentially wreak carnage, but the death of one lost bird doesn't really add very much to the debate either way.

  2. As no one has shown that wind farms make any effect on carbon emissions then there is a reason to feel that they do not have a place in our country side. In fact many say they add to carbon emissions due to the amount of concrete they need to keep them up right not to mention the £ millions [Billions] spent on relining power lines and roads destroying the wilderness. And what about the blades that need a big hole to bury them as they can not be recycled! China has a massive polluted area caused by the exploit of the grease to keep them turning. Oh and I have not mentioned the sheer amount of money which we pour into the companies to keep them sweet. One oil tanker out of control coming into the Thames will be the end of them at sea. Was the debate about Birds? Don't get me started! I used to work for one of these companies in the early 1990s and they do not care one bit about birds.

  3. Good to see this issue get the Avery treatment - pithy summary, verdict, action taken....

    John - re. the lifecycle carbon emissions from wind, there is an awful lot of evidence out there that shows it is very low carbon. Have a look at this as a starting point

    1. Harry - many thanks. I have signed up for gas and electricity from Ecotricity - I'll be complaining to you if they aren't any good!

      1. How does it assuage your guilt to sign up with a company financed by subsidy farming to transfer dosh to the rspb so that it gets even more dosh via involuntary taxation while exacerbating fuel poverty?

        1. Filbert - most forms of energy production are subsidised - most other forms of energy production produce more greenhouse gases. That's the very shortened version of a much longer answer.

          Also - my guilt is only minimally assuaged, there is plenty left, as reducing consumption is the most important thing to do, not transferring from one supplier to another. I'm not doing very well this year, but my energy consumption this decade is (I am pretty sure) less than that for the decade previously.

          1. have you thought of taking up cycling mark? You might shift a few pounds which although producing some immediate emissions would result in a slimmed down more calorically efficient Avery

          2. Giles - indeed. I used to do a lot of cycling but my car emissions are actually quite low - when I am not driving across the USA as I did this spring (and I don't think that cycling through Arizona in 40C heat would do me much good).

  4. Mark, did you know Mark Cocker was there?
    Here's the link to his report in yesterday's Gruniard!

  5. Re carbon: we can calculate your carbon footprint for you on your travels, and you could salve your concience by doing an offset with the WLT, and saving a bit of wildlife in the process.

  6. To me this carbon emission debate is unnecessary as I believe Essar Energy are having to close coal fired power stations here while the Indian Government telling them to build as many as they can as quickly as possible,perhaps top guy Harry and his pals pushing the climate change angle have ring fenced UK from other countries carbon emissions.
    One bird does not really matter but we are told it is where turbines are sited that count and that is obviously nonsense,fact is if a magnificent flying machine like a Swift gets killed by a turbine what chance lesser birds.The noise or draught from turbines obviously attract birds.

  7. Hmmmm, must have been an anti-windturbine week, no-one via Twitter or major papers picked up on the local story (also in Scotland) that the well known rug-wearing/conservationist Donald Trump was opposing a wind farm in the bay facing his "beautiful" golf-course in Scotland, get this he was worried about "the enviromental and aesthetic impact of the wind farm on the local area", unlike his golf course, but the best line was "the energy producded by turbines are un-proven and unreliable" a bit like his claims about Obama's birth right and like this comment irrelevant 🙂

  8. when one takes into account all the energy taken to make the turbine and all its fixtures and fittings, plus the transporting of it, the connection to the national grid, the power loss over that because of distance and the expected life of said turbine the balance of energy and carbon saving, especially on a wet carbon rich soil is questionable to say the least. We are told that the whole of the UK is windy enough to produce wind power so put the bloody turbines where we have already despoiled the biodiversity and where we need the energy rather than remote, beautiful and wildlife important places. I am saddened by the demise of the swift but in a species context it was unimportant.

    1. The connection to the grid is an important issue. I think there probably are some places where they are completely pointless due to the effect on peat etc. I am not sure if they really take all this into consideration. When I cycled down the coast of Germany I must admit I was quite stunned by the size and number of the wind farms and I know that this is a bit nimbyish but I'd be horrified if they did that to my locality.

    2. Clearly, the energy consumed in making the turbine etc has to be placed on the debit side of the account when assessing the carbon emissions of wind turbines but do you have any figures that actually support your suggestion that the balance of energy saving is questionable? The figures quoted in Harry's link claim to include allowance for these energy costs.


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