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Monitoring technology reveals seabirds avoid offshore wind farms

Offshore wind farms are a promising source of renewable energy, but one of their major downsides is the negative impact on wildlife, particularly seabirds. Or so we thought...

14 June 2023 | 6 min read
Andie Nicholls

UK

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Guillemots perched on a rock

Carbon Trust’s review of seabird monitoring technologies for offshore wind farms

If used in an effective way, we can obtain insightful results from monitoring technologies for offshore wind farms. There’s a plethora of technology available, but previously the focus has been on meso (within the wind farm) and macro avoidance (outside the wind farm), not necessarily micro (in the vicinity of the turbine).

We co-authored and project-managed a study for Carbon Trust that assessed the efficiency of different technologies for monitoring seabird avoidance behaviour, with the objective to improve collision risk models and streamline the consenting process.

Delving into these technologies in detail will hugely benefit future monitoring studies. While APEM carried out the analysis, we assessed technology providers, reviewed the analysis, and developed the report. We wrote the scope of works, highlighting the information you can obtain from these technologies and how they can be used effectively to gain valuable data.

The report provides an in-depth analysis of the capabilities of radar, camera, and acoustic technologies in:

  • System design
  • System functioning
  • Hosting/logistical requirements
  • Data collection
  • Data processing and data analysis
  • Recommendations

After using these technologies in practice, each technology was assessed for its different applications, the level of adaptation required to obtain desired data, and identified any shortfalls.

Onshore monitoring technologies are abundant. But as conditions are very different, how can we adapt technology to deploy it offshore? How can we fix the flaws to achieve what we want? These are some of the questions we delve into in the report.

While developing the report, we spoke to industry experts and gained valuable input from the project expert panel to ensure it was accurate, robust and in line with their expertise. We consulted with:

BioSS • Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) • Marine Scotland Science • Natural England • Natural Resources Wales (Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru) • NatureScot • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) • UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

We interviewed eight developers, managed expectations, reviewed and collated comments from industry experts. It was challenging trying to capture as many technologies as possible when new ones were always emerging.

Equipped with a thorough understanding of the monitoring technologies available, we outlined a scope of works for a study. We were able to help Carbon Trust by suggesting areas where we could deploy the technology and how to get the desired results to achieve a smooth consenting process.

There is an evidence gap with looking at collisions and micro avoidance. We need more research to reveal the severity of risk to wildlife, which can be filled by pioneering projects like Aberdeen.

Black headed gull seabird mid flight
Razorbill sitting on Isle of May.
Offshore wind farm - white turbines in the mid-ground on calm blue waters, blue sky with clouds.
Arctic Tern seabird mid flight

Studies like Aberdeen and Carbon Trust are hugely welcomed within the offshore wind farm industry, and it’s only the beginning. These studies will hopefully influence more research projects to gain investment, get underway, and provide further valuable insight to seabird avoidance behaviour and beyond.

Andie Nicholls

Marine Ornithologist

Puffins resting on Isle of May