Census Aims To Track Birds Nesting on Oil and Gas Platforms

Offshore Energies UK and Xodus are launching an offshore nesting bird census to get a better understanding of how the animals use oil and gas structures in an effort to protect them.

Sea Gulls Fly in Front of Oil Platform
Source: FauxCaster/Getty Images

The offshore energy industry is launching a new offshore nesting bird census (ONBC) in an effort to better understand how endangered sea birds use oil and gas platforms for nesting and rearing chicks.

The goal is to gain insight into geographic distribution of these unconventional breeding sites and how they are used so new data and knowledge can be shared.

“We are delighted to be involved in the ONBC, which we hope will become an annual exercise,” said Caroline Brown, Offshore Energies environment manager. “Some UK seabirds are facing a significant decline in numbers, and it is vital to have a better understanding of their nesting behavior in order to help protect them. We are confident the aims of this important survey will appeal to our offshore workforce and have a significant value to scientists.”

The census, which was created by MacNeill Ferguson, an ecological specialist from energy consultants Xodus, will take place in June 2024. Subsequent annual surveys are designed to provide long-term data highlighting the extent to which birds are nesting offshore.

The initiative is supported by the UK government’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

“There is a real opportunity here for operators to work collaboratively on a project,” Ferguson said. “Sharing ecological data aids planning and benefits the environment through ecologically coherent decision-making. It also provides an opportunity for operators who protect and monitor the birds to record a biodiversity net gain from their presence in the North Sea.”

Existing UK data has highlighted the prevalence of kittiwakes nesting on platforms in the southern North Sea, the area between Norfolk and the coast of Holland. However, other records have shown them nesting on platforms elsewhere off UK coasts.

The population of these distinctive small gulls has declined by 40% in recent years, and they are now on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature red list, meaning they are at risk of global extinction.

Similar concern exists about razorbills, guillemots, herring gulls, and even carrion crows, which also are vknown to use offshore energy platforms to nest.

As North Sea oil and gas infrastructure is decommissioned and dismantled, operators are legally obliged to avoid disturbance to nesting birds, and data from the survey is expected to help inform decision-making during decommissioning by providing up-to-date information as well as a unique scientific data source on sea bird behavior.