Bird monitoring at wind farms

Paul Boughton
Atmos Consulting has developed innovative computer modelling tools that enable wind farm developers and operators to comply with planning requirements for long-term post-construction monitoring (PCM) of bird behaviour more cost effectively.

The model uses ESRI’s ArcGIS technology platform, widely recognised as the global de facto standard for GIS (geographical information systems), within Atmos’ bespoke GI solution SPIDA (Spatial Information Delivery and Analysi). Last year the Atmos Consulting GIS development team travelled to the ESRI international user conference in the USA to collect a Special Achievement Award for SPIDA.

The PCM model is part of a suite of tools that Atmos Consulting uses to deliver a comprehensive range of services for clients including sophisticated site feasibility studies, optimisation proposals and on-going post construction assessments across a range of parameters from wind flow to noise levels and bird activity.

Consistency is achieved through the use of a standard method of data analysis across all available data.

Atmos ecologists have been monitoring eagle activity at the Ben Aketil wind farm on the Isle of Skye since 2007. The Ben Aketil wind farm was opened with 10 turbines in 2007 and a further two were commissioned in 2010, and post construction monitoring of bird activity was a planning condition. Early results seem to show some habituation to the presence of wind turbines by golden and white tailed eagles although these are far from conclusive at this stage. However, the project is illustrating good practice in PCM.

Speaking at a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) seminar on PCM in April, Atmos’ senior ecologist Stephanie Kiel stressed that the flight data used for the analysis was taken from a survey method not designed for this particular purpose.  However, the data gathered during Vantage Point surveys allowed a basic visual comparison of activity levels year on year, enabling the new modelling tools to be applied.

Atmos data manager Lucy Arnold developed the model to allow comparison of flight data collected over a number of years. The model aims to correct for survey effort and show a clearer picture of the actual bird activity levels across a site. The model can be adjusted for species and time periods as required.

“In an ideal world, developers should  undertake post construction monitoring as a matter of course, not just to comply with planning conditions, and models like this can make the data analysis much more economic and faster," says Stephanie.

“SNH’s Scottish Windfarm & Birds Steering Group is working hard to accumulate post construction monitoring data throughout the country to build up a comprehensive database of bird activity around wind farms. We anticipate that planners will continue to ask for post construction monitoring and that developers will seek the most cost-effective way of fulfilling their obligations,” said Stephanie.

Commenting on the findings at Ben Aketil, she said: “The results of the post construction monitoring need to be seen against two years of baseline surveys which showed high levels of fluctuations for both eagle species. Activity of both the golden and white tailed eagles was lowest in the first year after the wind farm was commissioned and their usage of the wider area appears to have recovered since but we are currently completing another year of post construction monitoring at the site which will add another piece to the puzzle.”

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