News March 2024

Heading for a bird sanctuary in the North Sea?

INBO conducted a study on the disturbance impact of human activities on the occurrence of seabirds. This was done in response to the planned revision of the Marine Spatial Plan and in implementation of the Natura 2000 and MSFD measures for Belgian marine waters. In order to investigate the disturbance impact, we built species distribution models and made sensitivity maps. Finally, we looked for possible mitigation measures.

Our analysis showed that one specific area is particularly valuable for disturbance-sensitive species such as red-throated diver, Northern gannet, little gull, common guillemot and razorbill. It is located off the west coast and encloses the sandbanks Oostdyck, Buitenratel, Kwintebank and Middelkerkebank. Together they form the so-called Flemish Banks. This area lies outside the current and planned wind farm zones and barely overlaps with important shipping routes. This zone therefore lends itself perfectly to be delineated as a marine bird sanctuary.

The development of large-scale wind farms should also take into account potential barrier effects. Our study shows that the entire zone up to 20 km off the coast must be kept free of wind farms in order to sustainably maintain the migration and wintering of sensitive species such as red-throated diver and common scoter on the Belgian part of the North Sea.

Nicolas Vanermen

Read more: Vanermen N., Courtens W., Van de walle M., Verstraete H. & Stienen E.W.M. (2023). Seabirds@Risk - Gevoeligheidskartering voor antropogene verstoring van zeevogels op zee. Rapporten van het Instituut voor Natuur- en Bosonderzoek 2023 (53). Instituut voor Natuur- en Bosonderzoek, Brussel. DOI:

Image above: Northern gannet (photo INBO)

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