Seabirds face extinction if Government pursues wind farm plan, RSPB warns

Helena Horton
·3-min read
The RSPB has suggested the government uses less biodiverse land for solar panels and onshore wind rather than relying on offshore - National Trust
The RSPB has suggested the government uses less biodiverse land for solar panels and onshore wind rather than relying on offshore - National Trust

Puffins and other seabirds face an 'irreversible decline' towards extinction under Boris Johnson's plans to power every home with wind by 2030, the RSPB has warned.

The Prime Minister last week promised that Britain had "limitless" offshore wind capacity, and said a green industrial revolution with this renewable resource at its heart would create millions of jobs and avert climate change.

However, conservationists have warned that an enthusiastic rolling out of offshore wind could cause our globally important seabird populations to dwindle to extinction.

As well as luring seabirds into their sharp propellers, offshore wind farms are often built in the shallow waters where birds feed and find small fish for their young.

The government should focus on building onshore wind and solar panels on areas less important for biodiversity, the bird charity has suggested, and fund monitoring and conservation schemes for seabirds to offset the damage any new offshore wind farms create.

A spokesperson for the RSPB asked that the government pursues any green energy programs "in harmony with nature", explaining: "Our seabirds and marine environment are in trouble facing a cocktail of threats from human pressures and climate change.

"Offshore wind is one of these pressures. Without transforming how we plan development in our seas alongside the delivery of meaningful conservation measures, these combined threats risk irreversible seabird losses. We urge government to reconcile these challenges to ensure that in responding to the climate crisis, we do not deepen the threat to nature."

Seabird populations are crashing, with the puffin population estimated by some scientists to have almost halved in the last five years, with climate change, overfishing of their prey and pollution major threats to their survival. It is thought offshore wind could be a pressure they don't need.

The black-legged kittiwake is at particular threat from offshore wind.  Since 1986, the UK kittiwake population has fallen by 70 per cent due to declines in breeding success and survival. Offshore wind on the east coast of the UK is predicted to increase pressure on this species in particular.

Offshore wind can impact seabirds in a number of ways during construction and operation including collision, disturbance from human activity, habitat loss, blocking important flight pathways and loss of access to preferred foraging areas displacement.  These threats were acknowledged by the government in the Offshore Wind Sector Deal and the Secretary of State’s summer announcement on development Hornsea 3, however as yet there has been no Government led action to tackle this particular issue. The RSPB has warned that plans to increase the scale of offshore wind deployment increases the risk to seabirds.

The RSPB spokesperson explained: "We risk losing our globally significant breeding colonies to ‘a thousand cuts’ where no individual scheme is responsible but collectively the impact is devastating."

One option the RSPB has presented to the government is floating wind. These wind farms can be constructed in deeper waters, away from feeding areas. If they are put away from popular migration routes, the windmills could have minimal effect on seabirds.

A government spokesperson said: “The UK is a global leader when it comes to protecting our seas and we are working closely with partners, including the RSPB and the renewable energy sector, to identify ways to manage and mitigate the potential impacts of renewable energy sources.

“We are proud of the protection our iconic seabird populations enjoy through our extensive network of Special Protection Areas and we are going further by developing a Seabird Conservation Strategy to mitigate the range of other pressures our seabirds are facing.”