Environmental groups have warned climate change is the biggest threat to the countryside after researchers suggested wind turbines could affect the tranquillity of rural areas.

Research into tranquillity at the University of Bradford has confirmed while the countryside on the urban fringe can be peaceful, it is threatened by illegal dumping and the presence of wind turbines and that these effects can be quantified.

But environmental groups, including Bradford Friends of the Earth, have agreed wind farms should be “sensitively sited”, but warned that the greatest threat to the countryside was climate change.

The announcement comes after the Bronte Society formally objected to Calderdale Council about proposals by Yorkshire Wind Power to replace turbines at its Ovenden Moor Windfarm with turbines double the size.

Greg Watts, professor of transportation noise at the School of Engineering, Design and Technology at the university and his team carried out a study, which examined environmental features in and around Ogden Water, Country Park and Nature Reserve.

It included recruiting 30 people, aged 18 to 77, who were accompanied by researchers on five-mile walks, asked to stop at various points and make observations on how peaceful settings were.

He said: “We asked people to consider what was tranquil about a particular place and what threatened that tranquillity.

“We found illegal dumping and wind turbines had an adverse effect. It was not only the noise and visual intrusion of the turbines themselves, but the buildings and service roads in and around the site that had probably affected people’s perception of tranquillity. It was this industrialisation of open green spaces that reduced their ability to be restorative.”

Professor Watts will present his findings at a conference this week in New York.

Rob Glover, treasurer of Friends of the Earth Bradford, said onshore wind represented an important step towards reducing carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels and tackling climate change.

He said: “However, that must not blind us to just accepting any development anywhere.

“We fully agree that any new windfarm proposal needs to demonstrate through the planning process that the location has been chosen carefully and that impacts on the surrounding environment have been minimised as far as practicable.

“If wind turbines are not sensitively sited, we can lose the support of the public.

“But one of the biggest threats to our countryside is climate change – and this is exactly what wind power alongside other clean energy sources can help defeat.”

Prof Watts said that the factors influencing tranquillity highlighted in the research would benefit planners and conservationists in designing more relaxing environments.

They could use a prediction method devised by researchers which would allow improvements in planning to be quantified.

He said: “When people are surrounded by nature and hear natural sounds rather than mechanical noises they find it easier to relax and to recover from stress.”

Emma Hill, project manager at Bradford Environmental Action Trust, said: “BEAT will be obviously in favour of energy generation from renewable sources but it is about things being in the right place.”