Seabird-wind farm interactions

Species: Lesser Black-backed Gull

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: Orford Ness (Photo: Niall Burton)

  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 Lesser Black-backed Gull as a model species. In summers 2010 and 2011, UvA-BiTS tags were fitted to 25 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, breeding at Orford Ness on the east coast of England (52°4’N, 1°33’E). Several existing and proposed wind farms are close to Orford Ness, which is part of the Alde-Ore Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA). The breeding population of Lesser Black-backed Gulls is one of the designated features of this site. However, this breeding population is in decline, falling from approximately 20,000 pairs in 1999 to 550 in 2010.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Photo: Jill Pakenham)

Results from the 2010 and 2011 breeding seaons show that 10% of journeys gulls made from Orford Ness were offshore. The maximum offshore distance reached was 159 km. The behaviour of individuals varied, with some birds spending more than half their time away from the colony at sea, while others never ventured offshore. Birds passed through existing and proposed wind farm sites both during the breeding season and on migration. Future analyses incorporating flight altitude data will fully explore the extent to which the tagged Lesser Black-backed Gulls interact with offshore wind farms, allowing us to assess the connectivity between SPA features and such developments, as well as providing infromation that could inform collision risk modelling.

For more information on this project, including details of where the tagged birds went on migration, see:

For information on the other part of this project, tagging Great Skuas on Foula SPA, see:


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Latest highlights

Older highlights are available in the Archive

Contact Persons:

Chris Thaxter, British Trust for Ornithology

Viola Ross-Smith, British Trust for Ornithology

Willem Bouten, IBED-UvA


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