THE expansion of offshore wind in the North Sea is an opportunity to help Scotland’s ailing seabird population recover, according to a report from the RSPB.

The report, titled Powering Healthy Seas: Accelerating Nature Positive Offshore Wind, calls for a “Nature Positive” approach to offshore renewables.

It highlights how the marine environment can be improved even as engineering projects in the North Sea accelerate in the coming decades. 

Offshore windfarms pose various threats to seabirds and marine wildlife, including the threat of birds colliding with turbines and habitat loss as a result of construction on the seabed.

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The report states that “disjointed planning” has led to developers becoming locked-in to sites with “unresolved ecological impacts” and calls for a new approach that ensures developments are sited to cause as little harm as possible to the environment.

Katie-Jo Luxton, RSPB director of global conservation, said: “We have a clear vision of what we want to achieve; thriving seabird colonies and sustainable energy. However, the current system is not working.

"Energy companies are being locked into development sites that are problematic for wildlife and the Secretary of State is regularly being asked to make impossible decisions that may achieve our energy targets but only at the expense of our seabirds and marine habitats.

“We need to change this, as the decisions we make today will have long lasting and potentially irreversible effects on seabird colonies that are already struggling.

“This report clearly states what we need to do at a time when decision-makers are beginning to plan new developments. With the right planning and a cross sector approach, we can achieve world leading ocean recovery and secure renewable energy, but only if we take transformative Nature Positive action, now.”

The report also calls for the closure of industrial sandeel fisheries in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and ambitious measures by fisheries to minimise bycatch.

The North Sea is one of the busiest maritime areas in the world, with seabirds and marine life existing alongside oil and gas rigs, shipping lanes and fisheries.

Official figures show that seabird populations have declined by almost 25% in the past four decades, with 2 million fewer seabirds compared to 1986.

In Scotland, seabird population numbers have nearly halved in this time.

The spread of avian flu among internationally significant populations of seabirds has only added to the pressures facing species like gannets and great skuas, who have been particularly hard-hit by the virus.