A two-year digital aerial survey has so far documented the movements of over 75,000 birds in the North Sea following a collaboration between ScotWind developers.
A fleet of aircraft have now completed nearly 700 hours of flight time collecting high-definition images across around 11,550 square kilometres (4,450 square miles) off Scotland’s east coast – an area more than half the size of Wales.
The data collection has been commissioned by developers who secured rights from Crown Estate Scotland as part of the 2022 ScotWind leasing round.
Fred. Olsen Seawind, Vattenfall, Scottish Power Renewables, Shell, SSE Renewables, CIP, Marubeni, Bluefloat, Renantis, BP and EnBW all co-operated to gather the ornithological data over the various licence areas.
The survey area includes the E1 and E2 zones plus a 12 km buffer zone, and was designed and completed by HiDef Aerial Surveying.
The survey was also fast-tracked by the partnership to ensure the information was collected across two full seabird breeding seasons, with monthly flights conducted for some 15 months.
Each aircraft involved in the survey is equipped with high-definition camera equipment that captures live footage which is then assessed by ornithology and marine experts.
To date the team has analysed almost 35 million images and documented the habits of over 75,000 birds and over 700 non-avian animals.
The data will also be provided to the Offshore Wind Directorate within the Scottish Government to inform future iterations of the Sectoral Marine Plan.
RSPB Scotland previously warned of “potentially disastrous outcomes for biodiversity” as a result of new ScotWind projects. It has since welcomed “useful discussions” with the sector but has urged industry and government to adopt a “Nature Positive” approach to any development.
Fraser Malcolm, offshore consents manager for the Ossian wind project said: “Preservation and enhancement of the natural environment is a responsibility we take very seriously. Delivering this survey with the collaboration of other developers is an industry-leading example of joint working that is providing vital data on bird species and activity in this expansive area.
“It will help inform the Marine Directorate and the Scottish Government’s understanding of the area, as well as providing us with a platform to develop collaborative initiatives for further bird studies and wider initiatives.
“Collaboration in this area has led to further co-operation among developers which represents a win-win for everyone.
“We are all proud to have played our part. By working together, we hope to accelerate successful project delivery to help Scotland meet their net zero targets.”
The 3.6-GW Ossian floating site in the E1 area off the Angus Coast was secured by a consortium of SSE, Marubeni and COP under the flagship leasing round.
Michelle Quinn, director of the Crown Estate Scotland’s offshore wind directorate added: “We welcome the collaborative approach taken by offshore wind developers to undertake these aerial surveys.
“The outputs from this study have helped our understanding of bird activity off the east coast of Scotland for our ongoing planning work and will continue to inform our future planning and consenting processes.
“Offshore Wind energy has an important role to play in the transition to low carbon energy sources and we continue to support sustainable development that considers potential environmental, social and economic impacts.’’