Seabird-wind farm interactions

Species: Great Skua

The UK Government has a commitment to obtain 15% of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Many offshore wind farms are therefore under construction or proposed. These wind farms might affect bird populations through:

Field site at Foula (Photo: Chris Thaxter)

  1. displacement due to the disturbance;
  2. presenting a barrier to migrating birds and birds commuting between breeding sites and feeding areas;
  3. collision mortality;
  4. indirect effects because of changes in habitat or prey availability.

This project is using UvA-BiTS technology to investigate these possible effects, using the Great Skua as a model species. In summers 2010 and 2011, UvA-BiTS tags were fitted to 14 adult Great Skuas, breeding on the island of Foula, Shetland (60°8’N, 2°5’W). Foula is a Special Protection Area (SPA) and its breeding population of Great Skuas is one of the designated features of this site. Although there are currently no offshore wind farms close to Foula, there are plans to develop offshore renewables in this area, and Great Skuas might also interact with existing and proposed wind farm sites on migration.

Great Skua (Photo: Jill Pakenham)

Results from the 2010 and 2011 breeding seaons show that Great Skuas from Foula predominantly headed north-west for foraging. The maximum offshore distance reached was 265 km for birds with eggs or chicks, and foraging trips at this stage of the breeding season lasted up to 102 hours. Birds did not visit existing and proposed wind farm sites during the breeding season, but we do not yet have data about their movements on migration. Future analyses incorporating flight altitude data will fully explore the extent to which the tagged Great Skuas interact with offshore wind farms, allowing us to assess the connectivity between SPA features and such developments, as well as providing information that could inform collision risk modelling.

For information on the other part of this project, tagging Lesser Black-backed Gulls breeding at the Alde-Ore Estuary SPA, see:


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Contact Persons:

Chris Thaxter, British Trust for Ornithology

Viola Ross-Smith, British Trust for Ornithology

Willem Bouten, IBED-UvA


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