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Seabird monitoring at offshore wind farms in the Belgian part of the North Sea: Updated results for the Bligh Bank & first results for the Thorntonbank
Vanermen, N.; Courtens, W.; Van de walle, M.; Verstraete, H.; Stienen, E.W.M. (2016). Seabird monitoring at offshore wind farms in the Belgian part of the North Sea: Updated results for the Bligh Bank & first results for the Thorntonbank. Rapporten van het Instituut voor Natuur- en Bosonderzoek, INBO.R.2016.11861538. INBO: Brussel. 42 pp.
Part of: Rapporten van het Instituut voor Natuur- en Bosonderzoek. Instituut voor Natuur- en Bosonderzoek: Brussel. ISSN 1782-9054, more

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  • Vanermen, N., more
  • Courtens, W., more
  • Van de walle, M., more
  • Verstraete, H., more
  • Stienen, E.W.M., more

    Since 2005, the Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO) performs monthly BACI-designed surveys to study seabird displacement following the construction of offshore wind farms in the Belgian part of the North Sea. For the first time since its completion in 2013 we report our findings for the C-Power wind farm at the Thorntonbank, and we also give an update of the results for the Bligh Bank wind farm after five years of post-impact monitoring.Compared to earlier reports and publications, we introduced some improvements in our modelling strategy. To correct for decreasing detectability with distance, the seabird numbers observed were now distance-corrected, and by allowing the detection functions to vary with wind force or wave height, temporal variation due to observation conditions was further reduced. We also included a fishery factor in the model, allowing to correct for the presence of beam trawlers in the vicinity of our survey tracks. As expected, this factor often explained a significant part of the variation in the counted numbers of gulls and northern fulmars.Based on the resulting impact models, we found significant avoidance by northern gannet and common guillemot at both sites. Common guillemot decreased in densities by 68% and 75% at the Thorntonbank and Bligh Bank respectively, and northern gannet by 99% and 82%. Razorbill decreased in numbers at the two sites, this decrease being significant at the Bligh Bank only (67%). Both sites attracted great black-backed gulls, this species having increased in numbers significantly by a factor 6.4 and 3.6 at the Thorntonbank and Bligh Bank respectively. The previously reported attraction effects of lesser black-backed gull and herring gull at the Bligh Bank were confirmed after two more years of monitoring, but no such effect was observed at the Thorntonbank. Finally, Sandwich tern appeared to be attracted to the offshore wind farm at the Thorntonbank, this effect being significant only for the buffer zone. This is in line with the results for the phase I of the Cpower wind farm when we also found attraction of Sandwich tern to the immediate surroundings of the six turbine wind farm.While the avoidance of common guillemot and northern gannet seems readily interpretable from a disturbance perspective, it is still difficult to pinpoint the observed increases in seabird numbers, even more so because these are not always consistent between both sites under study. Gaining more insight in the diurnal and tidal-dependent variation in numbers and behaviour of birds occurring inside the offshore wind farms seems indispensable for understanding the observed patterns and learning whether birds come to the wind farms merely for roosting and the related stepping stone function, or whether offshore wind farms also offer increased food availability. This should be investigated through oriented research making use of bird radar data, GPS tracking data of tagged gulls, fixed cameras and/or visual observations from a fixed location inside the wind farm.

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