Sandwich Tern Sinks Big UK Offshore Wind Farm

To the ranks of the snail darter and spotted owl comes now the Sandwich tern, another species able to stop development in its tracks.

This seabird breeds on North Norfolk coast of England, near where Centrica was planning to build a 540-megawatt offshore wind farm. On Friday, the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change, citing the threat that development could pose to the Sandwich tern, rejected the project.

sandwich tern,docking shoal,offshore wind farm

The Sandwich tern (image via Shutterstock)

The problem wasn’t strictly this one wind farm, known as Docking Shoal, but the impact the DECC felt it would have if built along with two other nearby projects that were approved: Centrica’s 580-MW Race Bank project and Warwick Energy’s 560-MW Dudgeon project.

In its decision [PDF], the government noted that an environmental assessment had concluded that up to 94 Sandwich terns per year could be killed by offshore wind development in the region without significantly damaging the bird’s prospects. (There are thought to be 400,000-500,000 Sandwich terns globally, but just 12,490 breeding pairs in the U.K., and the birds are said to be quite sensitive to human disruption.)

Docking Shoal plus the two other projects would apparently have sent mortality over that limit of 94, with Docking Shoal the worst offender.

“Due to its location closest to the North Norfolk Coast SPA and the foraging areas used by Sandwich terns, Docking Shoal is predicted to annually kill on average significantly more breeding Sandwich terns from the North Norfolk Coast SPA per turbine (0.84) than the other two sites (0.45 for Race Bank and 0.31 for Dudgeon),” the decision said.

The government considered scaling back all three projects to reduce mortality, in the hope of one day expanding them if the impacts on the birds were shown not to be as great as feared.

In the end, however, the government decided, more or less, that a bird in the hand was better than two in the bush. “Whilst the Secretary of State recognises that three fully developed schemes in the longer term could potentially deliver more energy (up to 1680MW) than the proposed schemes at Race Bank and Dudgeon combined (up to 1136MW) there can be no certainty that all three schemes will ever be fully developed,” the decision said.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.