Offshore wind farm risk to seabirds varies between years

No.:  2015-15
April 2015

Offshore wind farms are now operating or being constructed all around the UK as the government invests in renewable energy, but what are the consequences of such developments for our wildlife? New research by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has used state-of-the-art GPS tags to show how Lesser Black-backed Gulls breeding at a protected site in Suffolk use areas of sea where offshore wind farms already exist, and where future developments are earmarked.

Lesser Black-Backed Gull. Photograph by Edmund Fellowes.

BTO tracked twenty-five birds in three consecutive summers and found that gulls visited offshore wind farm areas significantly more in some years than in others. In every year, birds spent more time in wind farms zones when their chicks were young than at other times in the breeding season. Males also spent more time in these zones than females later on in the breeding season, when chicks were growing bigger and more independent.

Dr Chris Thaxter of the BTO said, "These results indicate just how varied individual seabirds can be in their behaviour, and highlights the value of long-term tracking datasets in estimating potential impacts of offshore wind farms on seabird populations”.  He added “Tracking animals over extended periods will help to correctly estimate the magnitude of risks posed to protected populations”.       

Offshore wind farms are a key part of the UK Government’s plan to obtain 15% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2020. It is therefore important to properly assess and quantify the impact that such developments could have on marine wildlife and habitats.

Dr Viola Ross-Smith of the BTO said, “The marine environment is already under pressure from human activities and offshore wind farm developments represent another rapid change. Studies like this are vital to establish the effects, positive or negative, on our wildlife”.

For more information please read 'Seabird–wind farm interactions during the breeding season vary within and between years: A case study of lesser black-backed gull Larus fuscus in the UK' by Thaxter et al.  just published in Biological Conservation (See Notes to Editors for web link)

Notes for Editors

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. www.bto.org

The project is funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change as part of its offshore energy strategic environmental assessment programme

The paper is published in Biological Conservation. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000632071500138X

Contact Details

Dr Chris Thaxter
(BTO Research Ecologist)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: chris.thaxter [at] bto.org (subject: Press%20Release%202015-5%20Windfarms%20%26%20Lesser%20Black-backed%20Gulls)

Dr Viola Ross-Smith
(BTO Research Ecologist)

Office: 01842 750050
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Email: viola.ross-smith [at] bto.org (subject: Press%20Release%20No.2015-5%20Windarms%20%26%20Lesser%20Black-backed%20Gulls)

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

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