The study found that seabirds avoided wind turbines more than previously thought and changed their flight path to do so.
Experts said the conclusions from the research on collision risk will allow better-informed wind farm design and decisions on planning consent.
The Offshore Renewables Joint Industry Programme (ORJIP) bird collision avoidance study combined human observer-based tracking with a system that automatically recorded seabird movements at a working offshore wind farm. Radars were also used to record data 24 hours a day for two years.
This resulted in the analysis of more than 600,000 videos, of which only 12,131 contained evidence of bird activity and only six collisions with turbines were observed.
The study was commissioned by 11 offshore wind developers, the Scottish and English Crown Estates and Marine Scotland.
To obtain planning consent for an offshore wind development, the developer needs to provide evidence of how seabirds will behave within and around the farm.
In order to quantify bird collision risk with turbines, collision risk models (CRM) are used to estimate the impact.
The research was designed to generate robust, empirical evidence on the levels of avoidance behaviour and collisions to improve CRMs, as researchers say that until now there was only limited evidence to substantiate the birds’ actual behaviour.
But despite being a member of the collaborative group taking part in the construction of the report, RSPB Scotland said the data does not go far enough to prove seabirds avoid offshore wind turbines more than expected.
An RSPB spokesman said: “The study has collected a vast amount of new data which will be invaluable to growing our knowledge of how wind farms affect seabirds for many years.
“However, it is extremely important to note that RSPB does not subscribe to the study’s conclusion that “the collision risk of seabirds is less than half of what would be expected
“The results are interesting, but we believe this is a very optimistic interpretation of the data, and it has simply not been possible to apply them to the current means by which we assess collision risk in the UK.”
20 Apr 2018