While some campaigners against wind farms focus on birds killed by rotating turbines, new Dutch research suggests that offshore wind farms can in fact be a relatively benign influence on habitats providing shelter for many species in busy waters.
Scientists have found that wind farms can have a positive effect on wildlife, with some species of birds even using the towering pylons as new feeding grounds as small creatures make their homes there.
Researchers from Wageningen University and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research were led by Professor Han Lindeboom as they studied the short term impact of a North Sea wind farm, publishing their findings on the Environmental Research Letters website.
They found that in busy coastal waters, the installation was a welcome oasis of calm for many undersea species, including mussels, anemones and crabs, which in turn attract feeding sea birds.
The OWEZ wind farm actually caused an increase in biodiversity as the anchoring piles and the rocks used to secure them make a handy nesting site. Cod were found sheltering in the site and there was an increase in porpoise activity around the farm.
Some, but not all bird species avoid the areas around the turbine blades. Gannets were scared off, but seagulls seemed to take the new arrival in their stride and cormorants increased in number. No record was kept of bird kills from turbine collisions.
But, the team reckoned that the impact of a wind farm is very dependent on where it is sited and how deep the surrounding waters are. The OWEZ wind farm was in an area with relatively few flying birds because of its distance from land. However, because the waters around the farm are well-used by shipping, the no-sail zone the site enforced on craft provided an area of undisturbed water which helped some species to shelter.
The team behind the research believe that disruption to bird species can be minimised by choosing suitable sites and because of the damage humans already cause to marine environments, the wind farm is a relatively benign influence on its surrounding habitats.
Top Image Credit: Offshore wind farm and wind turbines © Esuslo