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Offshore Wind Strategic Monitoring and Research Forum (OWSMRF)

What is OWSMRF?


The Offshore Wind Strategic Monitoring and Research Forum (OWSMRF) is an industry-led collaborative forum that aims to better understand the impact of large-scale offshore wind development on marine birds.

The UK Government has committed to large-scale deployment of offshore wind in the UK, with ambitions to increase capacity to 50 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, including up to 5GW of floating wind. This increase in renewable energy capacity will contribute to UK Government’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035, and to achieve Net Zero by 2050. Such climate change mitigation will have the added benefit of addressing a main driver of biodiversity loss. (For further details, see the British energy security strategy).

Photograph of a Manx shearwater, a medium sized black and white seabird, taking off, wings outstretched from the surface of the sea (© Lewis Thomson)

During the continuation, OWSMRF will work to identify the species where knowledge gaps on the effects of offshore wind development create greatest uncertainty in impact assessments and pose consenting challenges (photo: Lewis Thomson). 

However, a limited understanding of the effects of offshore wind on marine wildlife creates uncertainty in impact assessments that underpin consenting of future developments. This is particularly true for impacts on protected bird populations. OWSMRF uses a collaborative approach to identify critical gaps in our understanding, summarise existing evidence, and fill these gaps by developing robust research proposals to obtain new evidence.


OWSMRF achievements

Over the course of the Pilot Year (2019 to 2020) and the Continuation Phase (2021 to 2023), the Forum has focused on two groups of priority bird species, namely the Black-legged kittiwake and Procellariiforms (shearwaters and storm-petrels). OWSMRF produced four knowledge gap reports (KG1, KG2, KG3, KG4), and a list of 38 research ideas to improve understanding of the ecology and behaviour of these species, how they may interact with offshore windfarms and how any potential effects may be mitigated.

High priority research ideas have been developed into detailed project proposals and promoted to UK strategic research programmes by JNCC. The majority of kittiwake research ideas have already been taken forward for example through the Offshore Renewables Joint Industry Programme and the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme, while more recently developed research proposals on shearwaters and storm-petrels are currently being considered for funding.

The OWSMRF Continuation Phase was completed at the end of February 2023. As a result of the Continuation year and the research opportunities identified in the KG4 report, JNCC, with the support of the OWSMRF Developer Group, developed a successful bid which was submitted to the latest main call of the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme. This research project combines aspects from several KG4 ROs including those focussing on reducing uncertainty around demographic rates (RO 4.9 & 4.11) and expansion of tracking to improve understanding of at-sea behaviour and distribution (RO 4.8). This ambitious three-year project seeks to fill evidence gaps and reduce uncertainty around the potential interactions between Manx shearwaters, European storm-petrels and Leach’s storm-petrels and offshore wind farms with the aim of reducing consent risk for future developments. For more information see the JNCC web page, blog post and The Crown Estate’s press release.


Who is involved?

Secretariat and delivery: Acting as a technical Secretariat and providing delivery of much of the OWSMRF work, JNCC is co-ordinating the effort to identify and prioritise research opportunities to fill critical evidence gaps. JNCC will also undertake a Research Development and Promotion Role which will include a variety of tasks, including identifying project partners and collaborators, building project teams and facilitating the progression of high-level academic ideas into feasible research projects that can be delivered.

The Developer Group (DG) consists of seven developers (listed alphabetically): EDF Renewables, Equinor, Ørsted, RWE, ScottishPower Renewables (SPR), Shell and SSE Renewables (Scottish and Southern Electricity). OWSMRF extends its thanks to Vattenfall for their vital contribution to the Pilot Year, in particular recognising their funding which has already addressed one of the Research Objectives identified during the Pilot Year (see Work Product JNCC Report 684 below).

OWSMRF Developer Group logos

The Key Stakeholders include Natural England, NatureScot, Natural Resources Wales, Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Marine Scotland Science.

The Wider Stakeholders include ORJIP (Offshore Renewable Joint Industry Project, managed by The Carbon Trust), The Crown Estate, Crown Estate Scotland, Marine Scotland Licensing and Operations, Marine Scotland Planning and Policy, Marine Management Organisation, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), BEIS Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment (BEIS OE SEA) and OWIC (Offshore Wind Industry Council)


During the Pilot Year Key Stakeholders and technical experts convened at an August workshop on black-legged kittiwake populations and movements (photo: Sue O’Brien).


How does OWSMRF work?

Flowchart shows how OWSMRF works


OWSMRF Pilot Year (May 2019 – April 2020)

The pilot year focused solely on ornithology. A novel top-down approach was used to identify which species and knowledge gaps OWSMRF should focus on.

Cumulative effects on black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) was identified as the issue posing greatest concern for future consenting.

Background photo of a kittiwake flying across the sea, overlaid by summaries of the OWSMRF Pilot Year Research Opportunities

The Research Opportunities identified across three key themes during the Pilot Year are summarised above.


OWSMRF Continuation (April 2021 – February 2023)

Following on from the success of the Pilot Year, OWSMRF progressed with its continuation, commencing in April 2021 and completing in February 2023. Building on the Pilot, as well as benefitting from the interaction and integration with other successful projects such as ORJIP and OWEC, the OWSMRF continuation identified further high-priority species and knowledge gaps. This was undertaken with the ambition of initiating new research to reduce uncertainty around the impact of UK offshore wind, where that uncertainty is relevant to consent for new developments.

Photograph of a European storm-petrel, a small black and white seabird, flying across the surface of the sea (© Lewis Thomson)

European storm-petrel, one of the focal species of the OWSMRF continuation (photo: Lewis Thomson)

The focus of the OWSMRF continuation was Procellariiformes, specifically Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) and European storm-petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus). A stakeholder workshop identified these species as of growing importance and a potential future consent risk to the Offshore Wind sector as there is currently limited understanding of key aspects of the life history, distribution and interaction of these species with offshore wind. Following subsequent discussions, the latest Knowledge Gap, KG4, covers three areas:

  1. Population abundance and trends estimates
  2. Demographic rates
  3. At-sea distributions and other uses of tracking data


Flow chart illustrating how the Research Opportunities under each topic area, population abundance and trends, demographics rates and at-sea distribution and behaviour, fall into three areas of work and work synergistically and/or in sequence to improve understanding.

The Knowledge Gap key themes and research areas are shown in the flowchart above and set out the Research Opportunities identified and how they might work together.

Pilot Year Work Products

The Pilot Year resulted in the publication of reports on each of the key knowledge gaps:

On the back of the pilot, Vattenfall funded work to fulfil one of the identified research opportunities into the feasibility of colour-ring deployment on kittiwake:

A summary of the 20 Pilot Year Research Opportunities (ROs) is available in the Concept notes:

Of the ROs identified by OWSMRF, the following Scopes of Work (SoW) were produced, detailing the work required to address the evidence gap:

JNCC would be pleased to discuss these opportunities with any organisation that would be interested in taking them further.


Continuation Work Products

The continuation year has resulted in the publication of a report on key knowledge gaps:

A summary of the 18 Continuation Year Research Opportunities (ROs) can be found in the Continuation Year Concept Notes:

Of the ROs identified by OWSMRF, the following Scope of Work was produced, detailing the work required to address the evidence gap:

JNCC would be pleased to discuss these opportunities with any organisation that would be interested in taking them further.


Wider engagement

The OWSMRF Pilot Year and Continuation ROs also form part of The Crown Estate’s Offshore Wind Environment and Evidence Register (OWEER), a UK-wide register of strategic evidence gaps and recently completed or planned research relevant to reducing uncertainty in impact assessments or mitigation approaches as relevant to OW consenting.

Several existing research projects have been identified which partially or completely address evidence gaps identified through the OWSMRF Pilot. Nine of the ROs related to collision risk (KG1) have been partially or completely addressed, including four which were ranked "very high" and "high" in the prioritisation process. Research areas addressed include uncertainty around flight heights, cumulative effects, post-construction monitoring and demographic rates (see RE.OR.3, 5, 17, 20, 21, 23, 35, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 64, 69, 71, 72, 74 in the OWEER).

The lack of understanding around the links between SPAs and offshore wind farms (KG2) has been partially addressed by seven areas of research, including a review of migratory routes and an assessment of the feasibility of deploying innovative remote tracking technology to quantify movement rates between colonies and OWF areas (see RE.OR.17, 33, 64, 66, 69, 74 & 85 in the OWEER).

In addition, ongoing research is currently being conducted to address eight of the ROs relating to improving understanding of population dynamics and drivers (KG3). These projects have addressed or are addressing for example the feasibility of deploying a UK wide colour ringing scheme to obtain good quality estimates of key demographic rates, the delivery of compensation, kittiwake and fish prey interactions and cumulative threats faced by kittiwakes (see RE.OR.17, 18, 30, 37, 61, 62, 69, 71, 72, 77 & 84 in the OWEER).

KG4 ROs 4.8, 4.9, and 4.11 will be either fully or partially met by the OWEC ProcBe project, while RE.OR.73 & 75 address some of the storm-petrel tracking evidence gaps and review population ecology and collision & displacement risk for shearwaters and storm-petrels.

2023, Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme, Offshore Wind Environmental Evidence Register


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