Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A bird's eye view of wind farms

In a new guest blog, Dr Claire McDonald, a Research Associate in Statistical Ecology, explains more about CEH's work examining the potential impacts of offshore wind farms on seabirds. Claire presented details of the work at the British Ornithologists' Union Autumn Meeting on 26 November 2012.

Last week I was given the chance to discuss my work on modelling the impacts of offshore wind developments on seabirds at a one-day meeting organised by the British Ornithologists' Union. I thought this would be a great event to write about in my first blog for CEH. The meeting had record attendance, with people from across different organisations coming together to keep up to date about studies on marine renewables and birds. There is keen interest in this area as renewable energy developments will likely increase along the shores of the UK as our energy demands continue to increase.

Until recently, the main impacts of offshore wind developments on seabirds has focused on birds colliding with the wind turbines, but a more important consequence may be that the birds avoid the wind farm, forcing them to find food elsewhere. This could make the birds fly for longer, or force them to feed in less favourable areas which in turn would have knock-on effects on the survival and breeding success of the birds.

CEH has a well established long-term monitoring project on the seabird populations on the Isle of May, Scotland. Such data is invaluable and can be used to examine the potential impacts of offshore wind farms.

Guillemot on the Isle of May, photo by Akinori Takahashi

Along with other CEH colleagues, we have created a model to look at how guillemots, the second most numerous seabird species on the Isle of May, use the surrounding sea to find food. We were able to use the large amount of information CEH has on the guillemot's behaviour to make the model as realistic as possible, with respect to the direction the birds fly in, how long they spend flying, diving, staying at the colony and looking for food. We then examined how the guillemots changed their behaviour when a wind farm was placed nearby. We found that when a wind farm was present the guillemots on average had to fly for longer, as they had to spend longer looking for food because of increased competition from other birds at that location.

I presented CEH's work at the meeting. Our talk, together with the other talks and posters, provided a good overview of the current issues surrounding marine renewables and seabirds. The results from monitoring work on currently operating offshore wind farms in Denmark and the Netherlands were also shown, in addition to a variety of modelling work. The day provided everyone with the opportunity to discuss the research questions that still need to be answered, as well as how we can use the extensive knowledge we have on seabirds to aid monitoring of both the short and long-term impacts of marine renewables.

Claire McDonald

Claire's work in this area is carried out with Dr Kate Searle, Professor Sarah Wanless and Dr Francis Daunt. All four are based at CEH's site at Penicuik, near Edinburgh.

Read more about CEH's long-term monitoring study on the Isle of May.

Marine Renewables and Birds conference abstracts

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