Massive falls of the Robin in the North Sea

7 Mar 2011

Over 50 million migrating birds cross the North Sea twice a year. Birds that use stars for navigation purposes are considerably attracted to the illumination of offshore platforms. Over 7 species are particularly affected by this phenomenon in the North Sea. Impact is at its greatest when the night sky is covered by clouds; it leads to a total disorientation of the birds which circle for hours at night in the ocean around this false constellation which is in fact an offshore platform.

According to the report presented by The Netherlands to other Contracting Parties of the OSPAR Convention, one platform could be responsible for the death of 60,000 birds per year.

Among the targeted species are Common Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Skylark, European Robin and the Common Eider.

These statistical projections originated from field observations. Between October 2003 and December 2004, on a German platform, 442 dead birds of 21 different species were found on the gratings. However, it is noted, by all, that the number of birds that die from collisions or from the trauma is considerably higher ; they are lost at sea.

The fatal impact of artificial lights on birds has been documented since 1895 and this phenomenon has increased since the 1950s with the illumination of petrol refinery and airport towers. Between 1957 and 1995, the dead bodies of 120,000 birds were counted at the foot of a television tower. Among them over 24,000 birds were killed during 24 cloudy and rainy nights during this 38 year period.

It could come as a surprise to some that hydrocarbon exploitation in the North Sea decimates the European Robin, but this would be overlooking the fact that these familiar passerines which populations are in decline fly in September and October from Scandinavian countries to reach Southern Europe traversing 500 km of the North Sea. It is the same scenario for the Thrushes and the Skylarks which during the same season leave Norway to reach the United Kingdom and Ireland. Quite contrarily to the birds coated in the oil from the Erika and the Torrey Canyon, the passerines crossing the North Sea, lured by the offshore platforms suffer an anonymous, unnoticed, cruel death and their corpses are quickly eaten up by predators.

The subject will be addressed at the Offshore Industry Committee held in Barcelona from the 7th -11th of March 2011. The preparatory meeting showed that the protection of avian biodiversity is not a priority for the French government. Taking into consideration the projects of Total and other companies in the Arctic and the future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic coastline, Robin des Bois believes that a recommendation or decision by OSPAR in favour of reducing the intensity of lights on offshore platforms and other installations and their negative impact on avian biodiversity should not be postponed. At this point France is only recommending further studies. France has forgotten the famed poem by Jacques Prévert : « Birds in their thousands fly toward the lights / in the thousands they fall in their thousands they crash / in their thousands blinded in their thousands stunned / in their thousands they die” (The lighthouse keeper loves birds too much).

Other captivating subjects will be addressed such as the granting of authorization to abandon offshore platforms in the North East Atlantic, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in saline aquifers and the particularities and associated risks of gas and petrol offshore exploitation in extreme conditions ie. the Arctic, a portion of which is covered by the OSPAR convention.



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