PhD Studentship: Effects of Wind on Seabird Flight and Distribution: Implications for Assessing Impact of Offshore Wind Farms

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

Main Supervisor: Dr Stephen Votier (CLES, University of Exeter)
Co-­Supervisor: Dr Rob Thomas  (Biosciences, Cardiff University), Dr Matthew Witt (University of Exeter)
Co-­Supervisor: Prof Bob Furness (MacArthur Green)

Offshore wind farms have helped reduce reliance on fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas production, but these benefits must be offset against any potential negative impacts on biodiversity.

Seabirds are particularly at risk from offshore wind farms. These birds perform long flights between terrestrial colonies and marine foraging grounds, where collisions and displacement may have deleterious effects. However, changing wind due to climate change may alter these impacts because wind shapes flight speeds, flight costs and bird distribution. However, prevailing and future wind conditions are not currently considered when assessing wind farm impacts.

In conjunction with CASE partner MacArthur Green, this studentship will provide the first assessment of the differential effects of wind on the behaviour of a range of different seabird species tracked during foraging movements, and place this in the context of assessing potential collision and displacement risks of offshore wind farms.

This project will use existing tracking to determine the impact of wind on flight across the diversity of UK seabirds, in the context of potential offshore wind farm effects. This is an ideal system to study such effects because: (1) the UK supports ~8 million breeding seabirds of 25 species; (2) with 30 offshore wind farms, the UK is the largest producer of electricity from offshore wind and (3) climate change is predicted to alter UK wind regimes. We have GPS tracking data from >3045 individuals, 29 colonies, 13 years and 8 species. This diversity and scale is important not only because wind is likely to have divergent effects depending on species but also because the wide range of sites and time periods minimises any potentially confounding effects of short-­term site-­specific studies.


  1. To determine how different seabirds adjust timing and direction of foraging trips in relation to wind speed and direction.
  2. To determine species-­‐specific airspeed and groundspeed in relation to wind speed and direction.
  3. To conduct species-­specific habitat models in relation to wind conditions
  4. What are the implications of our research for assessing the impact of marine renewables on seabirds?

Candidate: This studentship will be largely desk-­based, focusing on the analysis of precision tracking data. Therefore the candidate would ideally be highly numerate and able to handle large datasets and sophisticated movement models.

MacArthur Green is an environmental consultancy whose casework includes assessments of the potential impact of offshore wind farms. This project emerged as it became clear that information on the distribution and movement of a range of seabird species, and how this might vary in the face of changing wind, is severely lacking, yet is fundamental to assessing offshore wind farm impacts over the time scales (>25 years) required in planning applications and relevant to seabird life histories and demography.

Funding Maximum

3.5 year studentship: UK/EU/International tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at the Research Council rate of £14,553 per year

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South West England