Gannet tracking at Bempton Cliffs
Nine potential development zones for offshore wind farms have been identified in UK waters as part of the current phase of development (Round 3), of which zones 3, Dogger Bank, 4, Hornsea, and 5, East Anglia, lie within the likely foraging range of breeding seabirds from Flamborough Head & Bempton Cliffs Special Protection Area (SPA), notably northern gannet Morus bassanus.
The foraging areas used by gannets from Bempton cliffs were unknown prior to this study. Satellite tracking provides information about the foraging flights and destinations at sea for individual birds from known breeding colonies, so confirming the origins of birds seen at sea.
The resulting information is being used to identify where the birds forage, especially during chick-rearing, in relation to proposed offshore wind farms and to aid the assessment of risk to breeding gannets from wind turbines, either through collision or indirect effects on the birds, their foraging habitats and prey. This information will be used to aid the planning of wind turbine locations in the marine environment. As offshore wind farms already in the planning system come into operation, it also may be possible to obtain some early indications of the gannets’ response to wind turbines.
Data were collected from adult gannets fitted with satellite tags at Bempton Cliffs, in July 2010 (14 adult birds), 2011 (13) and 2012 (15). All tags returned data during chick-rearing and several continued to transmit data into the early post-breeding period. For the first time, we have information about the marine areas used by gannets from Bempton Cliffs during the breeding season and early post-breeding period. The highest density of recorded locations at sea was within 50-150km from Bempton Cliffs; some inter-annual variation has been noted. The 95 per cent shaded density represents the sea area of active use in each year, while the 50 per cent area represents the core area of activity. The greatest overlap with any proposal area for offshore wind farms was with the Hornsea zone, which is closest to Bempton.
FAME and STAR
FAME (Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment fameproject.eu) and STAR (Seabird Tracking and Research) are twin projects which have organised the tracking of seabirds on the coast of Britain and Ireland from 2010 to present.
FAME is a trans-national study involving BirdLife partners in Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal as well as the University of Minho and the Wave Energy Centre in Portugal. Each country carried out a different program of work, ranging from questionnaires with fishermen to radar surveys, with the RSPB focusing on tracking seabirds. The scale of the work has been unprecedented and it remains one of the world’s largest seabird tracking and monitoring studies. The results and further information are available at FAMEproject.eu. STAR carries on the work which was started under the FAME project, tracking more birds at more sites in the UK and Ireland and including more species. During the FAME and STAR projects we have teamed up with a variety of organisations acknowledged below.
Data from FAME and STAR are publicly accessible and can be requested by emailing RSPB’s conservation data management unit firstname.lastname@example.org
who also hold an up-to-date list of the tracking data available or from seabirdtracking.org
where the data can also be viewed.
Tracking species for which there is a lack of tracking data
We have been making progress in our work to track species which are difficult to track, either because they are small (eg storm petrels) or because they are sensitive to handling (eg puffins, black guillemots), meaning we have developed techniques to use the smallest of tags and adapted methods to suit more sensitive species. We also monitor the effects which tracking these species has to both fill in important gaps in our knowledge of the needs of these species at sea and also progress ‘seabird-friendly’ tracking methods.
Herring and lesser black-backed gull tracking
These two large gull species have been tracked as part of a wider project investigating the significant declines of these seabirds.
UK Overseas Territory Seabird Tracking
The RSPB has tracked seabirds not only within the UK, but also in the UK Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic, South Pacific, and the Caribbean, where globally important seabird populations occur.
This work includes penguins, large albatrosses and petrels at subantarctic islands, and boobies, frigatebirds, petrels and tropicbirds on tropical islands. Large petrels and albatrosses have very large foraging ranges and travel between continents even during the breeding season. They frequently use highly productive upwelling areas, where large congregations occur, and site-based protection would be useful. Tropical seabirds, however, appear to forage in a very dispersed fashion and rarely congregate at reliable foraging hotspots. The tropical Murphy’s petrels breeding on Henderson Island in the south Pacific, however, appear to have the greatest foraging range of all seabirds, with single foraging trips during incubation exceeding 12,000 km.
For many of these marine birds it is therefore critical to sustainably manage the entire marine environment within their foraging range to conserve populations. Overall, tracking seabirds has enabled us to follow their fascinating journeys both during the breeding season – when the birds travel thousands of miles just to feed their chicks – and during the rest of the year, when some species undertake migrations around the entire Southern Ocean.