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Research will explore impact of offshore wind farms on UK seabird populations

University of Gloucestershire is a key partner in cutting-edge research exploring the impact of offshore wind farms on seabird populations, putting the UK on a nature-positive track to net zero carbon commitments.

The three-year study, starting in November, will examine the interactions between offshore wind farms in UK waters and Manx shearwaters and European storm petrels, two species of ‘petrel’ from the Procellariiform order of seabirds that includes albatrosses.

The research – entitled ProcBe (Procellariiform Behaviour and Demographics) – will be led by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) with experts from University of Gloucestershire, the RSPB and the University of Oxford.

Interactions of petrels with offshore wind farms is a new focus for this targeted research because in comparison with other species, relatively little is known about their at-sea behaviour, such as flight height, flight speed and nocturnal activity.

Through a combination of strategic tracking of seabirds, behavioural observations, and population modelling, ProcBe will seek to fill critical knowledge gaps around how Manx Shearwaters (pictured left) and European Storm Petrels might be affected by offshore wind farms.

It is among four new projects launched through the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change (OWEC) programme, a unique £50 million initiative that enables the gathering of data and evidence to support the sustainable development of offshore wind in the UK funded by The Crown Estate.

Each of the four projects will gather data and evidence to improve the understanding of the impact offshore wind has on marine wildlife around the UK, with the aim of ensuring ongoing development can provide long-term biodiversity gain while helping to deliver on the UK’s net zero commitments by 2050.

Dr Matt Wood, Senior Lecturer and Postgraduate Research Lead, who has carried out extensive research on seabirds, climate change and seabird demography, will lead on the project at University of Gloucestershire.

Dr Wood said: “This project helps put the UK on a nature-positive track to net zero. Seabirds can collide with offshore wind turbines, but we don’t yet know how petrels behave around them.

“Once our colleagues find out the flight heights and speed of Manx Shearwaters and European Storm Petrels, we’ll get to work on population modelling to assess how risky it would be to put offshore turbines in their path.

“We all want green energy and healthy seabird populations, so we need to build wind farms in the right places and design turbines in the right way.

“This project with JNCC, the RSPB and the University of Oxford is a crucial step to protecting the UK’s internationally-important seabird populations alongside new offshore wind farms.”

Dave Stone, Chief Scientist, JNCC said: “JNCC is thrilled to be leading this exciting project that has the potential to make significant advances in our understanding of some of the UK’s most important seabirds.

“The interactions between Procellariiform species (shearwaters and storm-petrels) and offshore wind developments are poorly understood, therefore addressing critical knowledge gaps should help the UK to meet its dual ambitions for achieving Net Zero and nature recovery.”

Photo of Manx Shearwater, credit Joe Wynn