Diving seabird numbers plunge 90pc near offshore wind farms
Credit: By Joe Pinkstone, Science Correspondent | 13 April 2023 | telegraph.co.uk ~~
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Populations of a diving seabird plummeted by more than 90 per cent after offshore wind farms were built, a study has found [link].
Data from German scientists looked at the number of red-throated loons in the North Sea before and after the installation of five offshore wind farms.
Numbers of the birds were found to be up to 94 per cent lower within half a mile of the wind turbines, on average, after they were built.
Wind turbines installed in the North Sea are seen as a key way to generate enough renewable electricity to allow for the phasing out of fossil fuels and to help reach net zero ambitions.
The study focused on five wind farms in the North Sea which are close to the coast of Denmark and Germany.
One farm, called Butendiek, experienced a 99 per cent decline in numbers of red-throated loons.
Numbers dropped by two thirds
“In all cases, the wind farms created a kind of halo around these constructions, with low to very low abundances of loons,” the scientists, led by Kiel University, write in their study.
The impact was felt further afield too, with an average decline of 52 per cent in bird numbers up to six miles from the turbines.
Two of the offshore wind farms, Helgoland and Austengrund, saw numbers of red-throated loons drop by more than two thirds within a six-mile radius.
The scientists used data from ships, aircraft and digital aerial surveys collected during March and April between 2010 and 2017.
A model was then created which tracked the loon density and how it changed after the wind farms were built.
The red-throated loon, also known as the red-throated diver, is the smallest and lightest of the UK’s diving birds. Most of its food is fish, which it catches by swimming underwater for up to 90 seconds at a time.
Shetland is a stronghold for the red-throated loon. They can be found there year round but during the summer more than 21,000 birds flock to UK shores around Scotland as well as the east and west coast.
Previous studies have found wind farms can affect other species, but no other seabird has been found to be so deleteriously impacted by offshore turbines, the authors claim.
“Although renewable energies will be needed to provide a large share of our energy demands in the future, it is necessary to minimise the costs in terms of less-adaptable species, to avoid amplifying the biodiversity crisis,” the scientists write in the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The bird is not known to be a particularly fussy eater but the scientists speculate that the turbines have such a significant effect on them by getting in the way of how they hunt.
Movements are restricted
“When foraging for their highly mobile prey, loons are now more restricted in terms of their larger-scale movements because their former foraging area has been split into smaller units by the establishment of several offshore wind farms,” the scientists said.
Aly McCluskie, senior conservation scientist at RSPB, told The Telegraph: “This helpful new study adds to the existing evidence that offshore wind farms can have major impacts on birds.
“This particular study focused on the impacts of offshore wind farms on a group of waterbirds called red-throated divers in the German North Sea. However, the seas around the UK are some of the most important anywhere globally for a wide range of bird species, including waterbirds and seabirds, and include Special Protection Areas for red-throated divers.
“These are already predicted to be impacted by offshore wind farm developments. Undoubtedly the scale of future offshore wind development proposed for the UK’s seas will have further huge impacts on our already under-pressure bird populations.
“It is therefore vital that as we rapidly grow renewables to tackle climate change we also ensure that we protect and recover our marine environment by avoiding the most important places for wildlife and restoring nature to our seas at scale.”
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