East Anglia ONE was the first offshore wind farm to gain planning approval using solely digital aerial bird surveys as part of the environmental impact assessment.

APEM provided innovative aerial surveys, data, assessment and expert advice on the potential impacts of the East Anglia ONE offshore wind farm on seabirds and marine mammals, contributing to its successful consent.

a pair of gannets

What we did

We flew a series of aerial surveys over the wind farm area over a period of about 18 months, collecting baseline bird and marine mammal data. We also developed a migration model for migratory birds.

Developers Scottish Power Renewables and Vattenfall Wind Power required data and expert advice on birds and marine mammals as part of the consenting for the East Anglian ONE offshore wind farm, a proposed £2.5 billion development 48 km off the Suffolk coast.

Until recently such surveys were carried out by boat-based surveyors, who scanned the sea and sky through binoculars.

More recently, the surveys have taken to the air. Developments in ultra-high resolution digital cameras have allowed camera systems mounted to aircraft to photograph huge areas quickly, cost effectively and more safely, while providing data that can be independently verified.

The surveys captured around 90,000 images over the East Anglia ONE area using a novel grid-based survey design. These were then analysed by APEM’s in-house ornithologists. Seabirds including gannets, kittiwakes, lesser black-backed gulls, herring gulls, divers and auks were found in the area of the proposed wind farm.

Ornithologists from the company also wrote EIA and HRA chapters examining the potential for impacts on seabirds and acted as expert witnesses to present the company’s findings at the PINS Hearings. The company also provided technical input for the EIA and HRA chapters on marine mammals.

Assessing whether any potential impacts on seabirds would be within acceptable levels requires detailed surveys over at least two years, allowing ornithologists to record which species are present in the area, along with their numbers and behaviour.

When analysed by experts the survey images reveal not only the numbers, location and species of birds in the area, but also whether or not they were flying when photographed and, if so, at what height and in which direction.

APEM has flown over 1,000 aerial bird and mammal surveys for offshore wind farms in the UK, Germany and the USA. Along the way the company has worked with most of the major wind farm developers operating in the UK, as well as the major regulators.

We are now carrying out the world’s largest digital aerial survey for the offshore wind industry off the coast of New York state, surveying an area twice the size of Wales.

The Results

  • East Anglia ONE became the first offshore wind farm to gain planning approval using solely aerial bird surveys as part of the environmental impact assessment.
  • Around 90,000 high resolution images were captured over the East Anglia ONE area using a novel grid based survey design.
  • Ornithologists from APEM wrote chapters for the EIA and HRA.
  • They also acted as expert witnesses at the PINS Hearings.