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What effect do offshore wind farms have on seabirds?

Knowing how an organism behaves, such as when foraging for food, can tell you if and how it will interact with a new threat in its environment.

Understanding an organism’s biology is the first step in finding out the impact human activity has on a population.

For example, knowing how an organism behaves, such as when foraging for food, can tell you if and how it will interact with a new threat in its environment.

Understanding gannet flight patterns from Bass Rock

Bass Rock is a small island off the east coast of Scotland. It is home to a large population of seabirds called gannets, which fly many tens of kilometres out into the North Sea to feed on fish.

The North Sea also contains a number of large offshore wind farms. Following the Paris Agreement on climate change, which has prompted investment in renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many more wind farms are planned.

There is already good evidence to show that birds can be killed by flying into a wind turbine. This is known as a bird strike. However, to understand how many birds might be impacted by turbines, you need to consider the following two questions:

  1. Will the locations that gannets forage in bring them into contact with wind farms?
  2. Does the height at which gannets fly mean they are at risk of striking a wind turbine?

Professor Keith Hamer and his team investigate these questions in the video. Keith is Professor of Ecology at the University of Leeds, where the focus of his research is the study of how human activity affects the natural world.

As you have seen, to gain a scientific understanding of gannets’ biology, Keith and his team use technology to help answer these questions. They attach Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking devices and pressure sensors to the birds, to measure where the gannets fly and how high. They then collect these devices to retrieve the data for analysis.

In the next exercise, you will be able to explore the data that was collected during the study, to answer the questions for yourself.

Have your say:

How do you think the placement of wind farms might influence seabird behaviour?
Share your response to this question in the Comments section.
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Ecology and Wildlife Conservation

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