Report finds offshore wind turbines not as dangerous for seabirds as thought

A wind farm.
A wind farm.
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The risk of seabirds colliding with offshore wind turbines is less than half what was previously thought, according to a landmark new report.

The findings come from the most comprehensive investigation into the impacts of offshore wind farms on seabird behaviour ever carried out.

The research suggests seabirds will actively avoid turbines and in most cases will not crash into them.

The multi-million-pound Bird Collision Avoidance Study is the first of its kind to employ a multi-sensor monitoring system, combining human observers with a system that automatically ­captured seabird movements at a working offshore wind farm in the Channel. Radars were also used to log data 24 hours a day for two years.

Analysis of more than 600,000 videos recorded during the study revealed only six seabirds hit turbines during 12,131 flights in the vicinity of the wind farm, none of which occurred at night.

The report was commissioned by the Offshore Renewables Joint Industry Programme (ORJIP), which is made up of developers, the Crown Estate, Crown Estate Scotland and Marine Scotland, with funding from the UK government. The study was developed and run with support from ornithologists and environmental advisors.

It’s hoped the report will help planners assess the environmental risks of new offshore wind developments.

The findings have been welcomed by government and industry representatives.

“Offshore wind developers must complete years of monitoring before consent for a project can be granted, and research like this is crucial to better understand the interaction between offshore wind farms and bird populations,” said Stephanie Conesa, policy manager at industry body Scottish Renewables. “The renewable energy industry is committed to making the most of our natural resources in a way which enhances our environment while helping to tackle climate change.”

Scottish energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “This study provides invaluable data for understanding the potential impact of offshore wind developments on seabirds as part of our efforts to develop this vital energy resource with due regard to the marine environment. The data yielded will therefore be of great help to inform our offshore wind consent and planning process.”

But conservationists said the study has limited use and should not be broadly applied to all potential wind farm sites.

A spokesman for RSPB Scotland said: “The study has collected a vast amount of new data, which will be invaluable to growing our knowledge of how wind farms affect seabirds for many years.

“However, it is extremely important to note that RSPB does not subscribe to the study’s conclusion that the collision risk of seabirds is less than half of what would be expected. The results are interesting, but we believe this is a very optimistic interpretation of the data.”

There are currently five offshore wind farms with 66 turbines operating in Scottish waters, including the world’s first floating offshore scheme.