Smartbirds - understanding how gulls behave through high-tech backpacks

17 Oct 2016 | No. 2016-38

In a bid to understand how the amber-listed Lesser Black-backed Gull behaves around offshore wind farms, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has partnered with DONG Energy to carry out a study of the species off the Cumbrian coast.

During the two-year study, state-of-the-art GPS tags are being used to track the movements of gulls from a colony at Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s South Walney Nature Reserve, the species is protected here but has recently been in decline, and from rooftops in Barrow-in-Furness, where Lesser black-backed Gulls are often less welcomed by their human neighbours.

The tags, which sit between a bird’s wings like a backpack, will allow the BTO researchers to understand many different aspects of these birds’ lives around wind farms, including crucially, whether gulls are at risk of death through collision with turbine blades.
“While offshore wind farms are a key weapon in the fight against climate change, it is important to understand potential effects of their development on wildlife in order to minimise any negative impacts. The tagging will enable the BTO to study the flight patterns of these two groups of gulls and offer an unprecedented chance to understand how seabirds respond to the construction of an offshore wind farm, as well as to further understand their movements through the year” said Emily Scragg for the BTO. “I can’t wait to see the results”.
“We are keen to learn more about how these gulls behave around offshore wind farms as they fly above, below or between the individual wind turbines. It will also be interesting to see how they interact with the wind farms” said Allen Risby, Lead Environmental and Consent Specialist with DONG Energy. He added, “They might  provide opportunities for the gulls too.”
The study is being jointly funded by the Walney Extension and Burbo Bank Extension projects, two of the offshore wind farms that DONG Energy is currently constructing off the northwest coast.

Tagging was undertaken this year during the gulls’ summer breeding season and the work thus far has already shown some differences in the use of offshore areas by birds from South Walney and Barrow.
Through the course of the next two years, further fascinating results are expected as we move from the construction phase of the wind farms through to when the turbine blades start turning.

Notes to Editors

  1. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations. 
  2. DONG Energy is the global leader in offshore wind farm development with eight operational wind farms around the UK coast and a further four under construction.
  3. Walney Extension, located 19 kilometres off Walney Island in Cumbria, is a 660-megawatt wind farm which on completion will be capable of meeting the electricity requirement of half a million UK homes. Burbo Bank Extension, under construction 7 kilometres off the North Wirral coast in Liverpool Bay, is a 258-megawatt wind farm which will be able to meet the electricity needs of around 200,000 UK homes.

Contact details

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Alan Price
(DONG Energy Head of UK Media Relations) 
Office: +44 (0)207 811 5208

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. Please contact images [at] quoting reference
October 2016-39

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews. Please contact us to book an interview. Office:01842 750050

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