Life above water
Wind energy generated offshore in the North Sea. It’s crucial for a clean and liveable future. For both people and animals. Sustainable power from wind farms is essential to achieving our climate goals. And so more and more wind farms are being built off our shoreline. That is having an impact on wildlife in the North Sea. For example, marine life in areas where these wind farms are being built.
We’d like to tell you about what the Dutch government is doing to minimise that impact.
Research is essential in order to find out exactly what impact offshore wind turbines are having. Because research is how we gain more knowledge. And we can use that knowledge to limit the impact of offshore wind.
One example of the impact on wildlife is habitat loss: during the construction of wind farms, seabirds have less space to look for food or to rest. And once the wind farm is complete, it also affects animals in the area, such as gulls, guillemots and cormorants.
WOZEP – the ‘Offshore Wind Ecological Programme’ – has been studying the impact of offshore wind farms on protected species since 2016. That includes vulnerable species both above and below the water that are protected by the Nature Conservation Act. WOZEP is studying seabirds, for example.
By tagging these birds, we can observe their behaviour. Where do they go? How high do they fly? How do they respond to a wind farm? Do they avoid it or are they attracted to it? This teaches us more about habitat loss. But also about collisions with wind turbines, for example.
We need so much more data. And there are certain complications that make it quite difficult to measure the exact impact of offshore wind farms.
Take migrating birds, for example. Because as well as seabirds who live on the North Sea, there are also migrating birds. Migration is different in every species, and there are hundreds of different species. We are only now starting to learn a bit more about migration: when birds migrate, what times of day, the routes they take and what height they fly at over the North Sea.
Another factor is that research at sea is a lot more difficult than research on land.
At WOZEP, we are doing everything we can to gather new data. That knowledge will help us make better choices as we develop offshore wind.
For example, when the government is choosing a location for a wind farm, we will look at the ecological impact right from the start. We also consider the options for reducing adverse effects. By building larger wind turbines, for instance – because then fewer turbines are needed. Another option is to leave a bigger gap between the water and the bottom of the blades. This is because many birds fly low over the sea, and this would enable them to pass under the blades.
We also use our research findings to stop the blades moving at times when birds are migrating on a large scale. We monitor bird migration using radar to do this. We are working on a prediction model using this bird radar. This way we can design a protocol for stopping wind turbines and preventing collisions. It’s not possible to stop a large wind farm just like that. The idea of a protocol is that the energy companies can take steps to ensure that the energy grid can cope with this. After all, we need to keep the lights on. In January 2023 we will start testing the protocol.
So, that’s what we’re doing for the birds. Another area of research involves bats. Bats also migrate over the sea between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. But like migratory birds, they only fly in certain weather conditions. To find out more about when and where bats fly, the WOZEP ecological research programme is using a combination of transmitter tags and bat detection.
First, bats can be fitted with a tiny transmitter tag. There is a network of receiving stations across the North Sea region that monitors the flight paths of these bats. Second, bat detectors in the wind farms give us an idea of how many bats there are around them.
These systems are teaching us a lot about the behaviour of bats and which flight paths they take. This is allowing the government to take steps to help prevent potential casualties.
Overall, wind farms certainly have an impact on life above the water. And the same applies to many other activities in the North Sea. Such as shipping and fishing. We are doing everything we can to limit the negative impact and promote the positive effects of wind energy at sea. That starts with doing research to generate new knowledge. Then, and only then, we can take effective measures.
But let’s not forget why offshore wind is so important – to produce sustainable energy. Wind energy from the North Sea is an essential element in the battle against climate change. And that will benefit birds and bats too.
Would you like to learn more? Why not visit windopzee.nl and don't forget to like this video if you found it interesting.