* Shocking 99% decline in Lesser Black-backed gulls at Suffolk coastal site
* The amber-listed gull is especially vulnerable to collision with offshore wind turbines
* Plans to further expand industrial wind projects in the area could prove disastrous for birds
A shocking 99% decline in the population of Lesser Black-backed gulls raises serious questions over the impact of industrial wind farm development in the North Sea.
Huge wind farms nearby …
The alarming reduction in the numbers of breeding birds at Suffolk’s Orford Ness coastal reserve has been noticed over several years, and so is probably the result of many contributing factors – but we cannot ignore the fact that two vast areas of wind turbines lie just off the coast.
Massive industrial wind turbines have been operating in the vicinity since the Greater Gabbard wind farm was completed back in 2012, joined by the Galloper wind farm’s array of 56 huge turbines in 2018.
With plans announced for even more industrial wind development in the area, the seas off the Suffolk coast could soon prove to be deadly for many species.
“Not clear” why numbers dropped so dramatically
The National Trust which manages the Orford Ness reserve told the East Anglian Daily Times that “In recent years we’ve seen [LBB Gull] numbers dwindle even further, which means we need to do more to protect them.”
They said that “it’s not clear why numbers dropped so dramatically”, pointing out that disturbance from visitors to the site is ‘almost certainly’ one cause.
Species especially vulnerable to turbine collisions
It has been well established that Lesser Black-backed gulls are especially vulnerable to collision with wind turbines. A 2019 study by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) used GPS tracking to show that the species is particularly at risk from turbine blades during migration and in winter months.
Key data ‘ignored’ in some planning assessments
A recent study by the Zoological Society of London, focusing on wind farm development off the Welsh coast, pointed out the UK has some of the best seabird monitoring anywhere in the world, but lamented that “key data is being ignored during offshore windfarm planning assessments.”
Project to protect remaining birds … funded by wind farm
Now, as the local Orford Ness LBB gull population has dwindled to just 210 breeding pairs, a project has finally been initiated, aimed at protecting the remaining birds.
Two ‘gull officers’ have been appointed to monitor the site and ‘raise awareness’ among the local community in an attempt to limit human encroachment on the gulls’ territory.
The cynical among us might feel uncomfortable that these ‘gull officer’ positions have been funded by … the Galloper Offshore Wind Farm.
It seems a little ironic that the wind industry is financing the project, rather than the National Trust which manages the site.
Catastrophic threat to sea birds
Raising awareness of the gulls’ decline is welcome, but I fear that the project is a drop in the ocean and will do little to protect the gulls from the obvious and potentially catastrophic threat lurking offshore.
With the frenzied expansion of the wind industry in Britain’s seas, we must acknowledge that the tragic decline in seabirds might not be caused solely by local environmental effects – but also by direct impact, quite literally, from the huge wind turbines that continue to proliferate around our coasts.
A two year bird survey programme, carried out as part of Galloper Wind Farm’s marine licence obligations, will conclude in June 2022 and report to the Government’s Marine Management Organisation.
I don’t know if the results of these surveys will be made public, but if so then it will be interesting to see how the wind farm has affected bird populations since its operations began.
Meanwhile we can only hope that the Orford Ness gull project will not only raise local awareness, but also highlight the real plight of birds being decimated at sea by the expanding presence of the offshore wind industry.
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