As part of the CoCoNet project, NatureBureau recently organised a workshop looking at the impacts of offshore wind farms on wildlife.
The end of April brought together an international group of scientists for a 2 day workshop in Kings Lynn, UK to look at the potential impacts of constructing offshore wind farms on wildlife in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. With the UK leading the world in offshore renewable energy, the scientists from Romania, Germany and Greece learnt from UK industry experts in the trials, challenges and progress relating to offshore wind farms, particularly concerning benthic ecology, ornithology, fisheries and marine mammals. Offshore wind farms, even in the UK, are still a relatively new industry and the full impact on wildlife is not known but it is rapidly advancing. By applying what we have learnt in the UK, we can establish the best locations for potential arrays in other European seas.
The EU already has an ambitious climate and energy target, known as the '20-20-20 target', whereby we aim to reduce carbon emissions by 20%, produce 20% of energy from renewables and improve energy efficiency by 20%, all by the year 2020. However, the latest IPCC report (IPCC 5th Assessment Report, March 2014) states that climate change is now a very real threat, and if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to further reduce our dependency on coal and oil and at least treble our production of energy from clean, renewable energies. Therefore, the need to construct offshore wind farms has never been so urgent. The benefits of offshore wind farms are numerous; with the stronger and more frequent winds offshore than onshore, they generate more power per turbine than their onshore counterparts. The visual impacts are also reduced the further out to sea the turbines are located, and there is less congestion on land in the construction phase with most transport being carried out at sea. Therefore, despite their high cost to construct, EU countries are keen to invest.
The first day of the workshop was dedicated to presentations from external experts. All external experts were invited as recognised leaders in the field of biotic impacts of OWFs. Presentations were given on the state-of-the art regarding the impacts on different taxonomic groups, including birds, marine mammals, benthic communities and the logistics of OWF developments and mitigation.
Day 1 also included presentations from CoCoNet participants. These provided a summary of the CoCoNet Pilot Project (PP) research relating to the biotic impacts of OWFs. This focussed on the benthic research within the Mediterranean PP and birds and mammals research in the Black Sea PP
On the second day, the team headed out to the Lincs Offshore Wind farm 8km off east of England. For many, this was the first up close experience of an offshore wind farm. Rather than the eyesore that many people associate with such arrays, the Lincs was an impressive sight, symbolising progress in technology to allow us to harness nature and the clean power that it can provide.
The 129 turbines generate nearly 470MW of energy per year, that's enough power for over 330,000 homes in the UK. However, you can't control Mother Nature and on our trip it was a very foggy day with little wind. Whilst this meant the turbines were slow moving and we didn't get to see them at their full potential, it was a blessing for those of the team who didn't have their sea legs!
Aside from the excitement of seeing the wind farm up close, we were also lucky enough to enjoy numerous sightings of grey seals, both relaxing on the sand banks and out at sea, plus countless seabirds, including cormorants, terns, Gannets, gulls and migrating geese. A great day was had by all and many thanks to the team at Norfolk Fishing Trips and Charter for their fabulous hospitality and endless cups of tea to keep us warm!
(Text provided by Natalie Crawley)