Science & Environment

Migrating geese avoid offshore wind farms, says study

Wind farms
Image caption Pink-footed geese fly around and above wind farms, new research shows

Pink-footed geese appear to be avoiding new offshore wind farms when returning to the UK, a study has suggested.

By monitoring the movement of the birds over four years, researchers were able to detect changes in flight patterns around two newly erected wind farms.

The results show that this species of geese, at least, identify wind farms as a threat and alter their flight to avoid turbine blades, the authors said.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Pawel Plonczkier and Ian Simms from the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) monitored migrating flocks of pink-footed geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) using radar as they returned to a Lincolnshire shore.

Although the geese are known to identify potentially hazardous structures in open environments, the extent to which they would avoid obstructions was not known before this study.

Because geese have relatively limited manoeuvrability in flight and often migrate at night, the threat of colliding with wind turbines was perceived to be substantial.

The new research, however, has countered this assumption.

Evasive manoeuvres

The team began monitoring the flight route of geese during the early construction stages of two offshore wind farms, off the coast from Skegness, in 2007 when only the turbines' foundations were in placethe highest turbine foundation was only 30 metres high.

Image caption The researchers tracked more than 40,000 birds during their study

By 2010, the wind farm was constructed and fully operational, and the researchers had tracked more than 40,000 birds.

Although weather conditions altered the overall number of birds wintering in the UK, the specific course they took altered, taking them around the wind farms.

By 2010, the proportion of goose flocks recorded flying outside of the wind farm area had increased from 52% to 81%.

And 90% of those still flying "through" the wind farm areas also altered their flight to climb above the turbines, avoiding collisions with the rotating blades.

As both numbers of pink-footed geese and offshore wind farm constructions are increasing, this study optimistically concludes that at least some species of wildlife will be able to adapt to the UK's development of alternative energy sources.

But Dr Lucy Wright from the British Trust for Ornithology, who was not involved with the research, pointed out the limitations of the study.

"It only measures the avoidance behaviour of one species at two neighbouring windfarms and we don't know how the results would differ for other species or at other sites," she told BBC News.

"As the authors point out, we need more studies like this that measure how well other bird species can avoid wind turbines at a range of sites.

"In particular, we need to understand how birds behave much further offshore as current plans are to build wind farms further offshore than ever before. There is still an awful lot we don't know."

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