APEM’s head of ornithology, Dr Mark Rehfisch, said: “Proposed onshore and offshore wind farms have been challenged during planning over concerns about their impacts on birds and as ornithologists we want to help get these decisions right.
“The problem is that there is often a paucity of understanding on what is really happening with birds around offshore wind farms.
“So there is a clear need for robust data so that regulators and developers can make informed assessments of the potential impacts of wind farms on offshore wildlife.”
Extremely high resolution cameras fitted to twin-engine survey aircraft have become the standard tool for gathering these data, in a technique pioneered by APEM over the last decade.
During the 2017 kittiwake and auk breeding season 2017, APEM conducted three high resolution digital aerial surveys of a major UK offshore wind farm and its surrounding 8km buffer zone, allowing researchers to compare the distribution of the species inside and outside the wind farm.
The purpose was to gather data for species that also occur in the Scottish wind farm area, to inform a consent application.
To gather high quality data the company’s ornithologists employed a bespoke survey design consisting of transects across the wind farm and its 8km buffer flown both north-west to south-east and north-east to south-west.
The design allowed the researchers to look for changes in the numbers and distribution of kittiwake and auk at different distances from the wind farm. Bird abundance was estimated within the wind farm footprint and in 1km concentric bands around it. Scientists used modelling to investigate whether the wind farm led to birds being displaced by assessing how bird densities varied with distance to it.
Although densities of kittiwake and auk varied across the survey area this was not related to distance to the wind farm and thus there was no evidence of displacement.
The project demonstrated that this built wind farm does not displace two key consenting species for the Scottish OWF, providing useful information for the consenting process.
Winners of the Scottish Green Energy Awards will be announced on 6 December, with APEM hoping to add to its haul of five innovation awards in the last five years.