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Windfarms' gannet problem

A new paper has apparently found that offshore windfarms pose a much greater threat to gannet populations than was previously thought. This is because when hunting they turn out to fly at a height that puts them in danger from turbine blades.

The RSPB are going to have an interesting time responding to these findings. They have previously said that they will only support windfarms that do not threaten bird populations. That's fine, but potentially problematic when you consider a map of gannet distribution in the UK.

There doesn't seem to be anywhere that you can put a windfarm offshore without it posing a threat to gannets.

Does this mean that the RSPB now has to oppose all offshore windfarms?

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Reader Comments (45)

Are we really to believe that no one had considered this possibility before our land and sea was blighted with these expensive bird mincers?

Did the RSPB do any "due diligence"?

Or did they think that CO2 was more dangerous to birds than 1000s of spinning blades dumped in their flight paths?

Sep 28, 2015 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&twisted

A change of name to the RSPW will let them weasel out of that problem.

Sep 28, 2015 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

Unlike land based turbines when the dead bird hit the water they don't leave any damming evidence.

So is there Climate Change funding for the RSPB to install off shore floating heat imaging 24 hour CCTV or Radar to monitor bird strikes against Turbine Blades. I'm sure Jeremy Corbyn,Shadow Cabinet Vegan Farming Minister would approve.

Sep 28, 2015 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

RSPB concern?

They're the outfit whose Harry Huyton (Head of energy and climate change) considers static fracking sites pose a greater threat to their avian revenue-generators than the whirling dervishers that are windmills.

Sep 28, 2015 at 12:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

From Wikipedia

The Bass Rock, or simply the Bass,[5] /ˈbæs/, is an island in the outer part of the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland. Approximately 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) offshore, and 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) north-east of North Berwick, it is a steep-sided volcanic rock, 107 metres (351 ft) at its highest point, and is home to a large colony of gannets.

Gannets obviously land at 20m and climb the rest ;)

Sep 28, 2015 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeilC

Sep 28, 2015 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered Commenter NeilC

Bass Rock, eh? I'm sure we could cram a few windmills on there as well.

Sep 28, 2015 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

It's been widely reported that Cod stocks have recovered significantly over the past few years.

Sep 28, 2015 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Jeremy Corbyn,s Minister for Enviroment and Rural Affairs is called Kerry McCarthy and she is a proud Vegan and Animal Lover also committed to saving the Enviroment .

She wrote on her blog when entering Westminster that she had lost a few hundred pounds worth of clothes to a Moths But her because of her conscious she could not bring herself to put down poison and get rid of the Investation. But Kerry McCarthy bless her don't seem to bothered about Britains losing its most precious Wild Bird Life.

Sep 28, 2015 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Hate to be a party pooper but....
New research has shown that most seabirds alter their flight paths to avoid colliding with turbines. But the review by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the University of Highlands and Islands’ Environmental Research Institute has warned there still may be significant risks. Whilst most birds will take action to avoid colliding, a proportion will not. The review found that more than 99% of seabirds were likely to alter their flight paths in order to avoid collision. However, Aonghais Cook, Research Ecologist at BTO, who led the study said: “It is important not to get lulled into a false sense of security by these figures. Whilst 99% of birds may avoid turbines, collision may still be a significant risk at sites with large numbers of birds. Furthermore, there are still a number of key gaps in knowledge for some vulnerable species.”

Sep 28, 2015 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

I've recently been told by someone who regularly visits offshore turbines that they attract marine life to their bases which, in turn, attracts fish. Fishing boats are banned in the farms and the fish are thriving. It is that abundance that attracts the gannets.

Sep 28, 2015 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat


Modelling of bird strikes already includes avoidance rates when calculating numbers likely to be killed. Different avoidance rates are applied to different species. Will try to find a link.

Sep 28, 2015 at 1:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJit

Can't remember how to embed a link, but if you search:

snh avoidance rate information guidance note

then the guidance is the top link in Goggle.

Look in the Annex - most spp are given 95-98%. There's a separate guidance note for geese which I think reckons they are >99%.

Sep 28, 2015 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJit

The ends justify the means, whatever they are.

Sep 28, 2015 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterSwiss Bob

Simple answer really. Re-classify any avian species that fails to avoid impacting a wind turbine as a 'non-bird', on the 'peer-reviewed' grounds that most 'birds' do avoid impacts, and the RSPB is then absolved from protecting them from 'interacting in a terminal manner' with wind turbines.

Sep 28, 2015 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterVarco

Sep 28, 2015 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Sadly, not all of them:

Rare bird last seen in Britain 22 years ago reappears - only to be killed by wind turbine in front of a horrified crowd of birdwatchers

Read more:


Sep 28, 2015 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered Commenteralan bates

According to the modelling for the Inch Cape windfarm (one of those mentioned on the beeb's report), if there was no avoidance the toll of gannets would be 31,500. With 98% avoidance the deaths are down to 630, and with 99%, 315. If 99.5%, then only 158 die per year.


You have to delve a little deeper to get a true picture. The actual number of bird transits are generated by counting birds and multiplying by unsurveyed time (i.e. if one day's surveying is done, then the transits in a month are 30X larger). For the Inch Cape windfarm, transits in August 2011 were estimated at 175,000. So far so dangerous. But using the collision risk spreadsheet, you can work out that each transit - without avoidance - has only a 6.5% chance of resulting in collision. This leaves 10,129 collisions for August. Now apply the avoidance rate. At 99% avoidance, only 101 birds go down that month. You then integrate over the year (distribution varies over time) to get the annual mortality of 315 as per above.

A key point is that 98% avoidance is very similar to 99% avoidance, or so it seems: but one rate results in twice the casualties of the other.

Sep 28, 2015 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJit

All this demonstrates to me is that we are dealing with hypocritical fanatics. If we kept this story the same and only changed "wind turbines" with anything related to fossil fuel discovery, extraction, production or use, there would demands to shut the entire thing down immediately.

Further evidence is the recent silence on climate scientist Jagdish Shukla who pulls in a sweet $700K/year (taxpayer funded) for him and his wife. And now apparently he's getting third job replacing Pauchuri. There's also the silence regarding the collusion between the EPA and green groups and other green nonsense:

Yep, hypocritical fanatics is what they are. And my evidence above is just in the past week. But even more scary, this all means that they feel their mission or cause is more important than stupid rules or using one standard.

Sep 28, 2015 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeC

But are the increased fish stocks (and lobsters?) around windfarms simply feeding on minced gannet?

For the RSPB, offshore windfarms have the advantage that birdstrike evidence is not clearly visible. When it is windy enough to make the windturbines turn, sea conditions are going to make it difficult for small boats to anchor at a safe distance, to be able to photograph and record anything.

Of course in calm conditions, it is easy to carry out a detailed survey, and find no evidence.

The RSPB have had to turn a blind eye to onshore wind turbinators, and would prefer us all to focus on the lack of evidence offshore.

Sep 28, 2015 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Jit, teaching wildlife the Green Cross Code, has caused many a low flying squirrel to bite his last nuts.

According to the modelled data reported by the BBC, the BBC only have data that reports what they will broadcast.

Sep 28, 2015 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie


New research has shown that most seabirds alter their flight paths to avoid colliding with turbines.

That sounds reasonable. If birds were stupid they'd already be extinct.
But it ignores the cost of altered flight paths.

Birds aren't stupid. They fly in the direction they choose to fly in because it gets them from A to B using the winds and the thermals. If they also have to adjust to avoid extra hazards then they use more energy. That means more stress on the birds. The weaker ones not making the winter.

And unfortunately, colony size changes are not simple. The change can lead to chaotic responses. We've no idea what will happen. We do know that seabird populations have declined 12% since 1999 (see this DEFRA report).

It's not all about bird-swatting.

Sep 28, 2015 at 2:45 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

All they needed to do, these guys hate leaving the office to do research, was to visit Wikipedia.

They can locate their prey from heights of up to 45 m (148 ft), but they normally search from a height of between 10 and 20 m (33 and 66 ft)

Or All About Birds states a height of up to 40 metres,

Breeding in only a few large colonies along the North Atlantic, the Northern Gannet spends most of its life at sea. Flocks engage in spectacular bouts of plunge-diving for fish, with hundreds of birds diving into the ocean from heights of up to 40 meters (130 feet).

Northern gannets dive vertically into the sea at velocities of up to 100 km/h (62 mph) . From what I recall of their technique Gannets use a Fold the Wings and let gravity do the work method. 60 mph and 40 metres would seem to be a reasonable combination to me.

Sep 28, 2015 at 2:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

M Courtney
But the wamistas and their allies just love straight line extrapolations. It's so hard when you don't understand the science and have never got beyond O-Level or Standard Grade Maths.
As for coping with two variables at the same time .... well, I mean, they only have 10 fingers.

Sep 28, 2015 at 4:19 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

@ NeilC

Gannets obviously land at 20m and climb the rest [of the Bass Rock].

Try googling "gannet nesting places" and look at the images. You will find that some of the nests are on precarious ledges on cliffs.

Sep 28, 2015 at 4:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Seabirds on patrol for fish do not flock together, until their target is identified. Then it is every gannet for himself (or herself) I do not think it is likely that their collision avoidance software has windfarms programmed in, or if it is, it is the last thing they ever do.

Seabirds with their wings part folded, have been seen by divers 'flying' underwater. I have never been sure if this is simply to turn around and head for the surface after a dive, because it seems unlikely they could catch a conscious fish at low speed flight, as opposed to high velocity dive.

Cormorants, as an example do catch fish by chasing them underwater, without a high speed dive.

Sep 28, 2015 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Avoiding wind turbines may not be that easy. That behave like a vacuum cleaner. On one side low pressure sucking in everything that gets close enough on the other side high pressure blasting the pieces far and wide. Still never mind, what's a few bird when the RSPB can earn good money from other sources.

Sep 28, 2015 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

I expect the RSPB will ask for bird boxes to be nailed to wind turbines to compensate for any damage.

Lobsters like bird brains.

Sep 28, 2015 at 5:59 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Jit, to be awkward, do the birds avoid more on survey days?
I'm not sure how they would ever know with great confidence in the bodies fall beneath the waves, but quite a lot of birds do avoid humans. That's probably why scarecrows were invented.

Sep 28, 2015 at 7:10 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Hey what about the annihilation of the bats !

Sep 28, 2015 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBLACK PEARL

M Courtney, James G, I can accept that birds may (may) opt to avoid pylons. But my understanding was that it was blade speed that was a large part of the problem. Something travelling in a circular path at ~200mph or more (a number I have seen quoted, I'd welcome more accurate data) is a different kettle of fish.

It's a bit like four-legged animals trying to avoid oncoming cars: the speed is something altogether outside their evolutionary experience. The population may indeed make a successful adaptation by simply avoiding roads altogether as far as possible, but this first requires a lot of animals to be "selected out".

Sep 28, 2015 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

'New research has shown that more than 99% of pedestrians were likely to alter their paths in order to avoid colliding with motorcars. But the review by the British Trust for Silly Walkers (BTSW) warned that whilst most pedestrians will take action to avoid colliding, a proportion (tentatively estimated at less than 1%) will not. Capt. Breedon Obvious, Research Ecologist, said: “It is important not to get lulled into a false sense of security by these figures. No indeed. Whilst 99% of pedestrians may avoid motorcars, collision may still be a significant risk at intersections with large numbers of pedestrians. Furthermore, there are still a number of key gaps in knowledge for some vulnerable types, such as jaybirds, turkeys, twits, loons and boobies.”'

Sep 28, 2015 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Michael, Blade speed is fast but I don't think they get to 200mph. Anguler momentum can be calculated from the standard formula (wiki) but you can sort of estimate from first principles. The inner and out parts of the blade are connected so the out has to cover much more distance in the same period as the 'nose'.

50metre blade has to cover pi x Diam. So centre turning at 10 RPM 0.05m from the centre will span 2 x 3.142 x 0.05 x 10rpm. = ~31mtres. At the tip 3.141 kms.

1860 m/hr against 188.46 kms/hr. about 116mph. So speeds can be enormous and 200mph is almost certainly possible except that most turbines shut down in wind above about 90km/hr. Converting wind speed to blade speed is not something I have yet calculated. Too dificult because of loses from turbulence etc.

Sep 28, 2015 at 9:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Stephen Richards, I think the speeds you calculate are sufficient to give any seabird a bad feather day.

Jet engine manufacturers used to throw oven ready poultry into jet engines, to see what happened to the turbine blades.

The results may actually have been used as the inspiration for certain fast food outlets.

Sep 28, 2015 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

SSAT: " Fishing boats are banned in the farms and the fish are thriving. It is that abundance that attracts the gannets"

If boats are banned they are paying no attention to any ban as witnessed by family on a cruise.

Perhaps the RSPB are giving altimeters to the gannets.

Sep 28, 2015 at 10:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

Does anyone know how many MPG (Megawatts Per Gannet) a windturbine generates?

Sep 29, 2015 at 12:40 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The Megawatts Per Grouse is probably quite high, as grouse fly quite low. The Megawatts Per Goldeneagle is probably lower, as they fly higher.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birdbrains obviously worked out their priorities very carefully before supporting wind turbines on land and at sea.

Sep 29, 2015 at 2:11 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Stephen Richards, I've just done a (quick and dirty) Google search to find that

"Alstom's Haliade 150-6MW wind turbine, with 150m rotor diameter and 6MW rated power capacity, is the world's ninth biggest wind turbine. The blade length of the upwind wind turbine is 73.5m and the swept area is 17,860m². The rotor speed ranges between 4rpm and 11.5rpm."

My calculations make the tip speed at 11.5rpm to be about 203mph. How often that happens, and how typical that turbine is, I don't know. I still suspect that the circular path, even at much lower speeds, catches more than a few birds by surprise.

Sep 29, 2015 at 6:02 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

OK, it's closer to 202mph.

Sep 29, 2015 at 6:17 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

michael hart
Judging by the data for a couple of smaller Siemens turbines maximum tip speeds are in excess of 150 mph for turbines being installed now.

SWT-3.6-107 blade length 52 m @ 5-13 rpm max tip speed 150+ mph
SWT-3.6-107 blade length 49 m @ 6-16 rpm max tip speed 175+ mph

We can take a little comfort from the fact that these speeds are not reached that often and in general are more likely to be at the cut-in speed which for the Siemens jobs means a tip speed of 70 mph. So rather than dodging F1 cars they are dodging autobahn traffic.

As an aside, not strictly on topic
Wind speeds for SWT-2.3-101
Cut-in wind speed 3-4 m/s
Nominal power at approx. 12-13 m/s
Cut-out wind speed 25 m/s

Wind data for Limoges Airport
Over the course of the year typical wind speeds vary from 1 m/s to 6 m/s (light air to moderate breeze), rarely exceeding 9 m/s (fresh breeze).

Yet windmills are being proposed all over Limousin and wind speed will rarely get to nominal for them.

Sep 29, 2015 at 7:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Sep 29, 2015 at 6:02 AM michael hart

Michael, Thanks. I calculated to 100m dia so I could do the sums in my head, however, I had not heard of greater than 150mtr diameter blades before. Most of the one I've seen in France have been about 80 - 100. They are getting stupidly enormous.
Presumably the higher speed 150m up would throw any broken pieces of blade a bit further than the current 500m safety zone from houses.

Sep 29, 2015 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Sep 29, 2015 atSandyS

The turbines will be placed on the highest ground of which there is plenty where you are. Wind speed is of course not the major parameter, money is.

There have been a number of wind projects that have been banned in France by public enquiry. I am currently working with a group in the Dordogne to stop the germans building them here.

Sep 29, 2015 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

I asked the RSPB the following question:

'As a charity created to protect birds, how do you justify supporting wind farms when they kill so many birds. '

Their response:

'We are faced with an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence showing that climate change will cause widespread species declines or even extinctions. This may appear alarmist to some people but it is already happening. There are many examples from around the world including some in the UK. If climate change goes unchecked then many more species will be threatened.

Along with the desperate need to reduce energy demand and improve energy efficiency, we do need more energy. We know many people are against wind turbines but there is widespread opposition to all the alternatives, which include fracking, nuclear power or burning more fossil fuels.
There isn't a perfect technology. Renewables such as wind turbines and solar farms are the least damaging and fastest-to-develop option that we have.

Wind turbines can cause some significant problems if they are put near important areas for wildlife. There is a risk of bird collisions, they can damage habitat and cause disturbance. However, through sensible planning, these problems can usually be avoided.

In the UK, we have good environmental protection mechanisms and an effective planning system, which demands that appropriate high quality surveys must be conducted before wind farms can be given planning consent. In the few cases where adequate surveys are not properly undertaken, the RSPB has no choice but to oppose developments, and in cases where unacceptable impacts on bird populations are predicted we will use all the powers available to us to fight against such developments (for example in the case of the Lewis wind farm). We devote a lot of time and energy to this role. There are further examples on our website here

Our full position on wind farms can be found here

Yours sincerely '

They are so far in the alarmist camp, they don't care about birds now, just future birds in case climate changes!!

Sep 29, 2015 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterMattS

We are faced with an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence showing that climate change will cause widespread species declines or even extinctions. This may appear alarmist to some people but it is already happening. There are many examples from around the world including some in the UK.

Could you kindly ask a couple of follow up questions?

1 Which bird species worldwide have gone extinct due to climate change?
2 Which bird species in thee UK have gone extinct due to climate change?
3 How do we know this climate change was caused by anthropogenic CO2?

Actually, forget question 3. The IPCC admits it can't do regional climate change estimates.

Sep 29, 2015 at 4:04 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

My follow up was:

'Thank you for your swift response.

I would be very interested to understand what you consider are examples of man-made climate change in the UK. How are these human induced changes killing birds?

My understanding is that temperatures have remained static for the best part of two decades and that since 1850 temperatures have only increased by 0.85 degrees C. It is only in computer models where climate change by humans becomes dangerous. So far these models have proved very ineffective at predicting the future. The models have failed to predict any climate changes correctly.

The RSPB is a charity to protect birds, now, at the current time. You seem to supporting the killing of birds now, in order to prevent something which is a prediction of a possible future event by failed computer models. Surely this is unjustifiable.

I am passionate about the natural environment and I see wind farms as a blight on the landscape and a killer of birds and bats. For a charity supposedly in existence to protect birds, your position on windfarms seems misplaced.

I look forward to hearing from you ,'

To which they responded:

The RSPB aims to protect birds now and in the future. The science tells us that climate change will affect wildlife both directly, eg by changing temperature, rainfall, extreme weather events, weather patterns etc acting on species directly; and indirectly, eg from land use change, as people adapting to climate change, through changing agriculture, relocation of communities, etc. Some, perhaps many, impacts will come through changing ecological situations, as Climate Change affect one species has a knock-on effect to the ecological community, eg breakdown of food source availability (already causing major changes in our seas and seabirds), or from diseases and invasive species spreading faster.

There are a few examples from the UK and the rest of the world on these various links

Here is evidence climate change is man-made

I hope this helps explain the significance of the threat to wildlife of climate change. Our organisation along with the other 99 organisations in the Climate Coalition ( are calling for action on climate change. Sadly, there isn't a perfect technology that is low in greenhouse gas emissions and has no effect on wildlife and the environment. We believe renewable energy, including wind farms, is the best available. However, as I mentioned in my previous email, this should not be at the expense of our most important sites for wildlife. We will continue to oppose developments that pose a significant threat to wildlife conservation.

I contemplated a letter to Charities Commission to ask them to judge whether they were fulfilling their aim. But knowing how ineffectual the CC are, did nothing more! They are raving greens who care little about birds. Shame!

Sep 29, 2015 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterMattS

“Jet engine manufacturers used to throw oven ready poultry into jet engines”

AFAIK, they still do, although I have read that early such experiments did more damage than expected. American advice was eventually sought, and proved effective - it was: “first defrost the chicken”.

Sep 30, 2015 at 10:35 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

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