In a bid to understand how the amber-listed Lesser Black-backed Gull behaves around offshore wind farms, DONG Energy has partnered with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to carry out a study of the species off the Cumbrian coast.
State-of-the-art GPS tags are being used to track the movements of gulls during the two-year study. It will focus on gulls from a colony at Cumbria Wildlife Trust's South Walney Nature Reserve, where the species is protected but has recently been in decline, and from rooftops in Barrow-in-Furness, where lesser black-backed gulls are often less welcomed by their human neighbours.
The tags, which sit between a bird's wings like a backpack, will allow the BTO researchers to understand many different aspects of these birds' lives around wind farms, including crucially, whether gulls are at risk of death through collision with turbine blades.
Allen Risby, Lead Environment and Consents Specialist with DONG Energy, said: "We are keen to learn more about how these gulls behave around offshore wind farms as they fly above, below or between the individual wind turbines. It will also be interesting to see how they interact with the wind farms. They may provide opportunities for the gulls too."
Emily Scragg for the BTO said: "While offshore wind farms are a key weapon in the fight against climate change, it is important to understand potential effects of their development on wildlife in order to minimise any negative impacts. The tagging will enable the BTO to study the flight patterns of these two groups of gulls and offer an unprecedented chance to understand how seabirds respond to the construction of an offshore wind farm, as well as to further understand their movements through the year. I can't wait to see the results".
The study is being jointly funded by the Walney Extension and Burbo Bank Extension projects, two of the offshore wind farms that DONG Energy is currently constructing off the North West coast.
Tagging was undertaken this year during the gulls' summer breeding season and the work has already shown some differences in the use of offshore areas by birds from South Walney and Barrow.
Through the course of the next two years, further fascinating results are expected as the wind farms move from their construction phase through to operation.