The latest published outputs from the offshore wind and marine bird partnership OWSMRF highlight research priorities on black-legged kittiwakes to improve assessments of future offshore wind projects.
Delivered by JNCC, the Offshore Wind Strategic Monitoring and Research Forum (OWSMRF) is a collaborative partnership between the offshore wind industry, nature conservation bodies, NGOs, researchers and regulators. The Forum is led by seven offshore wind developers; EDF Renewables UK (chair and DG representative), Equinor, Ørsted, RWE, ScottishPower Renewables, SSE Renewables and Shell.
Work completed through the OWSMRF Pilot Year (2019–2020) identified priority knowledge gaps and research needs to better understand the effects of large-scale offshore wind development on kittiwakes. A total of 20 research ideas were described in three reports.
These research ideas have been summarised into a series of concept notes, and five high-priority research areas have been developed into detailed scopes of work (see OWSMRF Pilot Year Concept Notes and Scopes of Work), with the purpose of closing key knowledge gaps.
The proposed research is looking at how kittiwakes behave in the vicinity of wind turbines, how they use the marine environment, and how they move between colonies. For example, it is possible to equip birds with a combination of sensors to determine how high they fly and how far offshore they travel, a technology that is very similar to multi-function sport watches. This technology can be applied to other marine bird species within single projects, increasing research cost-effectiveness.
This knowledge will improve how offshore wind farm impact assessments are undertaken and help to inform the design of ecological compensatory measures when required.
Lise Ruffino, Senior Marine Industries Ornithologist at JNCC, said:
"Kittiwakes reproduce in a number of protected areas around the UK, and their populations have suffered significant declines over the past decades.
"Unfortunately we do not have sufficient understanding of the behaviour and life of individuals to predict how resilient their populations may be to potential additional mortality caused by offshore wind farms.
"The research identified through OWSMRF builds on latest advances in technology and science to address key knowledge gaps, and is the result of successful collaboration with research partners, experts and stakeholders. This novel research is one of the processes that we need to undertake in order to enable responsible co-existence between marine birds and offshore wind."
Some of the research highlighted in these scopes of work have already been taken forward. They include an assessment of the technologies available, such as cameras and radars, to detect potential collisions with turbines and observe avoidance behaviours, and a feasibility study of using colour rings on kittiwakes to better understand how their populations may respond to potential wind farm impacts.
Polly Tarrant, Environment Manager at EDF Renewables UK, said:
"To meet the UK Government’s ambitious climate and Net Zero targets there will need to be a rapid increase in offshore wind capacity. Understanding the life cycle and behaviour of kittiwakes across the UK waters, and how this species responds to the presence of wind turbines, will be crucial to achieving these targets.
"It is exciting to see industry and stakeholders working together to develop research initiatives aimed at increasing our understanding of this species, and their interaction with turbines.
"Application of this increased knowledge will facilitate mitigation through design methodologies for, where appropriate, potential impacts and compensation packages where impacts remain."
The success of the Pilot Year has relied on active engagement of key stakeholders, including the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Marine Scotland Science, the Marine Management Organisation, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
Following the success of the Pilot Year, a new OWSMRF phase kicked off in 2021. On-going work is looking at a new group of species – Manx shearwaters and European storm-petrels – with a report identifying key knowledge gaps and research needs published recently.
The OWSMRF Pilot Year Concept Notes and Scopes of Work are available through JNCC's Resource Hub. For more information on the Offshore Wind Strategic Monitoring and Research Forum, visit the OWSMRF webpage.