Wind farms built to tackle climate change could be the “final nail in the coffin” for sea birds, the RSPB has warned as it publishes a new report into their feeding hotspots.
The UK is a globally crucial place for these birds, as it contains 8 million breeding pairs. They are in fast decline – seabirds have faced a 70 per cent drop worldwide since the 1970s, and numbers continue to fall.
When the birds feed, they fly out to sea to find food sources such as sandeels. The RSPB has tracked over 1,000 of Britain’s four most threatened bird species — kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and shags — and found they feed at certain “hotspots”. Many of these are sandbanks where small fish are found – which happen to be the places developers find it easier to build offshore wind turbines.
The new research, published in the journal Biological Conservation, found that the hotspots are bigger than all the Special Protection Areas in the UK, where human activity on bird life is curbed.
It has also identified areas in which the building of infrastructure including wind farms should be banned, the RSPB said.
Gareth Cunningham, the bird charity’s chief marine policy officer, told The Telegraph: “We are in the middle of the climate emergency and one of the methods for addressing that is offshore wind. Currently there’s very little monitoring done on offshore wind farms.
“Wind farms need to be built where the sea is fairly shallow, sometimes this means they are built on areas which are meant for foraging.
“The new data shows where birds go so we need to not put offshore wind in these hotspots. We need environmentally sensible installations. We have a biodiversity emergency — we don’t want to make this worse while tackling climate emergency. We need to deal with climate change but we need to make sure the measures we take to address climate change aren’t the final nail in the coffin for seabirds.”
Wind farms can harm these little birds because collision with the blades can cause death as they try to fly to their feeding spots. Even the birds which wisely dodge the structures are harmed; they are forced to take large detours, putting chicks at risk of starvation as they wait for their parents to return.