Great Black-backed Gull in Flight | Project TAG | Offshore Wind |ORE Catapult

Project Tag to Shed New Light on Life and Flight of Birds

Published 14 June 2017

Increasingly, there is more and more demand for information about the movement and lifestyle of our bird species – particularly as newer technology allows for the development of wind farms further offshore.

However, there is scope for further improving the tagging technology currently in use. The relatively short life of batteries, bulky size or susceptibility to poor weather or malfunction means obtaining information can be a time consuming, laborious and expensive process.

But a fledgling innovation challenge could transform that situation and help bring a new maturity to bird tagging technology, seeking solutions that are more robust, reliable and accurate than ever before.

Moray Offshore Windfarm (East) Ltd has partnered with ORE Catapult to launch the challenge, which is aimed at providing a greater level of insight into the lives of our bird species.

It is hoped that this information will contribute towards lowering the cost of offshore wind – and help to inform the location of new offshore wind farm sites in the right places.

Supported by Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Limited, Marine Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the innovation challenge is aimed at developing a tagging technology that will initially be used to monitor the behaviour of a colony of greater black-backed gulls, with the intention of potentially adapting the technology for other species.

Vicky Coy, a project manager at ORE Catapult, said: “The greater black-backed gull is the ideal species to launch this innovation challenge with, as a colony is found in the Moray Firth area near a number of planned wind farm developments. Our aim is to provide a mechanism for gathering real-world data in a way that works with the environment and preserves the species’ natural behaviours as much as possible.

“With that in mind, the technology for the tagging should be as inconspicuous as possible for the birds, but like the colonies the developers want to track, it will have to be extremely resilient to the harsh weather conditions found around the UK’s coastline.”

Environmental monitoring is already a big part of any wind farm development onshore or offshore, but the reality is current techniques are expensive and not always representative of real-world conditions.

As such, a strong commercial market exists for those companies who develop the right solutions, Vicky added.

“For UK companies, the international reach of the right product to meet this innovation challenge goes beyond tracking birds’ migratory paths. “There are an ever increasing number of countries looking to develop wind farms, both on and offshore, so this represents a great opportunity to access a genuinely global marketplace, create new jobs and further bolster the UK’s position at the forefront of the offshore renewables sector.”

More reliable and robust technology will allow both developers and legislators a greater insight into coastal species’ behaviour and, as such, will be an essential tool in informing the location and operation of developments across our coastlines.

Catarina Rei, Technical Lead on the project for EDP Renewables, who are developing Moray East, added: “Gathering this information is vital as it will help the offshore wind industry to develop proposals that maximise the delivery of clean energy without creating unacceptable impacts on our seabird populations.  When planning for future offshore renewables it will help to refine even further what the ‘sweet-spot’ for wind farm placement looks like, finding the right balance between location, operational times and wind resource. This in turn will help to lower the cost of energy through lowering project risk, supporting decision making and ensuring high environmental standards.

“Finding the sweet spot is an essential part in helping this growing sector mature and support our move towards a more sustainable low-carbon future.”