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Radio telemetry as a tool for impact assessment of wind farms: the case of Little Terns Sterna albifrons at Scroby Sands, Norfolk, UK

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Many seabirds travel widely to exploit variably distributed prey resources, utilizing even profitable patches only briefly as prey become available. Assessing the relative importance of areas occupied by wind farms relies on sufficient survey effort to increase the probability of detection and later assessment to an acceptable level. Conventional techniques suffer from high sampling costs and infrequent sampling of patches within larger areas. Remote techniques, which continuously sample habitat, may offer a solution although sufficient coverage may be difficult to achieve. In this paper, we outline experiences of the use of radio telemetry on LittleTerns Sterna albifrons at their most important UK breeding site, the Great Yarmouth North Denes Special Protection Area (SPA), in relation to a 30 turbine offshore wind farm on Scroby Sands, which encroaches to 2 km from the North Denes colony. Little Terns had not been radio-tagged previously in the UK, and the technical difficulties of tagging and subsequently following a small (55 g) diving seabird limited data collection. However, comparative data from 2 years (2003 and 2004), in which the abundance of the terns’ preferred prey varied greatly, revealed striking differences in activity and foraging patterns, which changed the perception of the scope of the birds. With an active nest, birds occupied a range of < 6.3 km2 with a range span of up to 4.6 km. In comparison, failed birds ranged widely, occupying ranges up to 52 km2 and travelling up to 27 km in a single foraging bout. As birds were recorded from 2 to 3 km offshore, the wind farm is within range of birds from the breeding colony at North Denes, although only a small proportion of foraging time was spent at such distance in the years of study. The potential value of radio (and satellite) telemetry in illustrating habitat use, perhaps to set precautionary distance limits for wind farms as well as defining actual use of particular areas including for collision risk assessment is discussed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: ECON Ecological Consultancy, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, NR4 7UH, UK 2: Enviroserve Ltd, 17 Mill Lane, Hemsby, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR29 4ND, UK

Publication date: 01 March 2006

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