A group of offshore renewable energy companies has provided a much-needed financial boost to 'Seabirds Count', the fourth national census of the UK’s breeding seabird populations. Thanks to equal funding contributions from EDF Renewables, Moray Offshore Windfarm (West) Limited (Moray West), Red Rock Power Limited (Red Rock Power) and SSE Renewables, alongside support from government and conservation charities, the count is now set for completion in 2020.
Seabird censuses in Britain and Ireland began with Operation Seafarer in 1969-70, followed by two further censuses, the Seabird Colony Register Census in 1985-88 and Seabird 2000. Initiated in 2015, Seabirds Count is the latest in the series.
The census aims to make an accurate count of 25 species of seabirds – an estimated eight million birds when last counted at the turn of the century – across more than 10,000 sites in Britain and Ireland. Such a mammoth task is made possible through the hard work of dedicated volunteers and specialist surveyors, and charities and government nature conservation bodies operating under the guidance of the Seabird Monitoring Programme Partnership, co-ordinated by JNCC.
The census will provide essential data on the health of the UK’s globally important seabirds and support efforts to protect them for future generations to enjoy. EDF Renewables, Red Rock Power and SSE Renewables companies have each contributed £120,000 and Moray West will shortly make a further contribution of £120,000 (resulting in a combined total of £480,000) to help fund the deployment of specialist surveyors and charter boats in Scotland over the next two years to survey in difficult to reach locations. Surveys of other parts of Britain and Ireland have, however, largely been possible. Project management of these surveys is led by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) with support from the RSPB, who are working on behalf of the Seabird Monitoring Programme Partnership.
Thanks to the above contributions, survey work for this breeding season is now well underway, with teams of surveyors heading to some of the most remote, inaccessible and spectacular parts of Scotland, such as St Kilda. In addition to cliff-nesting seabird species such as black-legged kittiwake, they will also be counting rarer species such as European storm-petrels, Leach’s storm-petrels and Manx shearwaters. These are some of the most difficult seabirds to survey as they are nocturnal, and nest hidden in burrows and rock crevices. Specialist survey methods will be deployed by playing recordings of their calls and recording the number of responses received from the birds.
In the year 2000, St Kilda held approximately 45,000 breeding pairs of Leach’s storm petrel, representing 94% of the British and Irish population (Mitchell et al. 2003). The Seabirds Count census will provide an up-to-date assessment of the population trend of this species in Britain and Ireland.
JNCC Spokesperson and Seabirds Count Coordinator, Daisy Burnell, said:
“The Seabird Monitoring Programme Partnership is hugely grateful to EDF Renewables, Moray West, Red Rock Power and SSE Renewables for their contributions. Their funding comes at a critical moment and will help to secure important data, which combined with data collected by the dedicated Seabirds Count volunteers and partner organisations, will allow a robust assessment of the health of our internationally important seabird populations to be made.”
RSPB Spokesperson and Senior Conservation Scientist, Dr Allan Perkins, said:
“Seabirds are under huge pressure from climate change and other human-induced changes to the marine environment. Offshore wind is part of the solution to climate change, so it is great to see offshore wind energy developers taking positive action to improve our understanding of how seabirds use our seas and coasts. Ultimately, the offshore wind sector will also be able to benefit as the data could help ensure new offshore windfarms are located to avoid the most important places for seabirds.”
A spokesperson on behalf of the four wind developers said:
“Seabird populations can be affected by a range of factors, not least by climate change. As responsible renewable energy developers investing in a net zero carbon economy, we are keen to ensure that we understand any potential impacts wind farm projects may have on seabird populations in the UK. With more offshore wind farms being constructed in Scotland over the forthcoming years, these findings will help inform the environmental impact assessment process for future developments."
Full version of the press release.
Contact: Communications team