A NEW REPORT PUBLISHED BY THE RSPB brings together experts in conservation and wind energy to look at how the UK can live up to its offshore wind commitments and protect our natural world.

The report offers hope that with the right frameworks and political will, ways can be found to generate renewable energy at sea that will help to tackle the climate and nature emergencies together.

This year the health of our marine life and the potential for offshore wind to provide clean and sustainable electricity and deliver energy security have been brought into sharp focus. Avian Influenza is devastating the UK’s globally important seabird populations which are already facing numerous pressures as the nature and climate emergency impacts on our wildlife. At the same time, decision-makers are looking at how offshore wind can play a key role in the Government’s British Energy Security Strategy (BESS) to both help decarbonise our energy sector and deliver energy security.

The scale of wind farm expansion from under 15GW today to reach BESS targets of 50GW by 2030, and potentially the need to double this by 2050, will require a substantial footprint around our coasts.

To do this safely, and in harmony with nature, the report says we must learn from the mistakes of previous generations that have left our marine ecosystems depleted and degraded by unplanned or badly managed practices that have left marine wildlife as an afterthought.

The UK’s coast and seas are home to wildlife above and below the waves, but the condition of this habitat is under threat and the globally important marine life is in decline. Official Government statistics show that seabird numbers have suffered almost a 25 per cent decline, in less than four decades, there has been a loss of over 2 million seabirds compared to 1986. And this is particularly prevalent in Scotland, which should be a haven for seabirds, where population numbers almost halved in this time.

Today, all bar one of the UK’s 25 breeding seabirds are Red or Amber listed on the Birds of Conservation Concern, and this is before conservationists are able to fully understand the impact of this years’ Avian Influenza outbreak on colony populations.

With government commitments to tackle the nature and climate emergency, there are legally binding targets for halting species decline and reducing greenhouse gases by decarbonising the energy sector. The report, Powering Healthy Seas, brings together expertise from energy and conservation to better understand the factors planners and decision makers will need to take into account so that the expansion of offshore wind can be delivered without jeopardising the UK’s efforts to restore seabird populations.

Katie-jo Luxton at the RSPB said: “We have a clear vision of what we want to achieve; thriving seabird colonies and sustainable energy. However, the current system is not working. Energy companies are being locked into development sites that are problematic for wildlife and the Secretary of State is regularly being asked to make impossible decisions that may achieve our energy targets but only at the expense of our seabirds and marine habitats.

“We need to change this, as the decisions we make today will have long lasting and potentially irreversible effects on seabird colonies that are already struggling. This report clearly states what we need to do at a time when decision-makers are beginning to plan new developments. With the right planning and a cross sector approach, we can achieve world leading ocean recovery and secure renewable energy, but only if we take transformative Nature Positive action, now.”

RenewableUK’s Environmental Policy Analyst Juliette Webb said:”Not only are new offshore wind farms lowering our energy bills, but they also remain critical to tackling climate change, which poses the greatest threat to bird populations and our natural environment. It’s vitally important that we build well-sited clean energy projects to reach net zero as fast as possible.

“We’re working with the RSPB to ensure that we develop offshore wind farms in an environmentally sensitive way which protects birds and support marine ecosystems. This includes adapting the location of our wind farms and providing specially-designed safe places for birds to nest at sea.”

By bringing together experts from conservation and energy the new report is the first step towards developing a blueprint for how we can deliver offshore wind safely as well as setting the right conditions for seabird populations to recover and thrive again.”

The report looks at the need for:

  • A robust ecological evidence base to inform environmentally conscious siting of new offshore windfarms.
  • Country-level marine plans to provide clarity to marine users.
  • Impact assessments that identify cumulative impacts of multiple developments.
  • Innovative industry standards, supported by government policy.
  • Adaptive management techniques that offer flexibility in the face of changing conditions or new information.
  • Strategic compensation, where necessary, to ensure ecological impacts are appropriately addressed.
  • A marine net gain system to help drive nature recovery and improvement.

As part of a wider Nature Positive approach, offshore wind could be the driver for change in the way we manage and protect our seas, says the RSPB. This approach should address safe places for seabirds to feed with MPA management and bycatch mitigation, safe places to nest through a UK wide island biosecurity programme, and more food availability through the closure of industry sand eel fisheries in UK waters and improved fisheries management.

* Read Powering Healthy Seas: Accelerating Nature Positive Offshore Wind here.


* Source: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds