With UK offshore wind ambitions set to increase by 2030, an industry-led forum to better understand how large-scale development may impact marine birds was launched today.
The Offshore Wind Strategic Monitoring and Research Forum (OWSMRF) led by six offshore wind developers – EDF-Renewables, Equinor, Innogy, Ørsted, ScottishPower Renewables, and Vattenfall – is being delivered by JNCC.
With UK offshore wind power to increase capacity to 30 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, there is a need to better understand the potential impact of such development on marine birds. OWSMRF will enable government nature conservation advisors, NGOs, experts and regulators to highlight critical knowledge gaps to developers. This collaborative approach will help to identify, prioritise and develop further research and evidence. In its pilot year the focus will be on marine birds, specifically kittiwakes.
Key experts and attendees convened at an August workshop on black-legged kittiwake populations and movements. © Sue O'Brien
JNCC’s Director of Marine, John Goold, said: “This forum offers a unique opportunity to rapidly identify and progress high quality research that will facilitate future offshore wind development while ensuring long-term sustainable use of the marine environment. We are looking forward to the opportunities this pilot year brings.”
“The offshore wind developers funding the OWSMRF pilot are very pleased to see it getting off to a flying start, promising it will be the effective vehicle we were hoping for,” said Jesper Kyed Larsen, Vattenfall, chair of the group of funding developers.
Earlier this year, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Marine Scotland Science agreed that a lack of evidence around cumulative impacts on protected populations of black-legged kittiwakes currently poses the greatest consenting risk to offshore wind development in the UK.
For the pilot, JNCC is working closely with academics to review existing evidence and identify robust scientific research projects that would improve understanding of how kittiwake populations in the UK are affected by operational and planned offshore wind farms. By the end of the pilot year, JNCC will produce three reports to summarise current evidence, identify research opportunities that could fill in knowledge gaps and indicate which of them would be most beneficial to progress.
Funding to undertake the most promising research opportunities will be pursued in subsequent years. Future plans will be announced as the Forum partners and stakeholders discuss continued engagement.
Tim Frayling, a senior ornithologist with Natural England, said: “Natural England recognise the need to work collaboratively to tackle the gaps in our knowledge on the potential impacts on seabirds from offshore renewables. We welcome the establishment of OWSMRF and look forward to playing an active role and working together to begin to address the many evidence gaps.”
OWSMRF’s pilot year will focus on seabirds including kittiwakes, pictured here. © Matt Parsons
Dr Aly McCluskie, Senior Conservation Scientist with RSPB, said: “In the face of rapid expansion of offshore wind farms in UK and wider North Sea waters, there exist large gaps in the knowledge about, and thereby huge uncertainty around, the scale of impacts posed to our seabird populations and other marine life. The OWSMRF programme is an opportunity to help fill these gaps and reduce these uncertainties. RSPB is hugely supportive of the collaborative and strategic approach that this programme will take and we are delighted to be a part of that process. It is only through work like this that uncertainty can be reduced, helping to locate renewable energy development in a way that avoids and minimises harm to seabirds and our natural marine environment.”