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SSE: Flying Squad Puffin Monitoring Pilot

Using innovative technology to monitor protected species

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  • What we know
  • What we’re doing
  • What it’s worth

What we know

The increasing demand for sustainable energy solutions has resulted in a rise of wind farms in the UK.

These wind farms have an environmental impact on the surrounding wildlife and landscape, though approval processes attempt to limit their impact.

To counter the potential negative impact of windfarms on the ecosystem, an in-depth monitoring system was needed to collect data on protected species such as puffins. Traditional methods of collecting data were time consuming and inaccurate. A more streamlined approach was needed to monitor bird movement, which would, in turn, expedite the wind-farm consenting process.

A partnership between SSE, Microsoft, Avanade and Naturescot designed to bring about digital and technological innovation, has implemented a ground-breaking species monitoring technique on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth. As part of a planning condition for its Beatrice offshore wind farm, SSE is required to monitor puffin colonies in Caithness and chose the Isle of May for its field trial because of its accessibility.

What we’re doing

Working with environmental and natural heritage stakeholders and Microsoft, a method has been devised using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to measure the health of the puffin colony.

The special feature of AI is that the technology ‘learns’ not to count the same puffin twice in the field of view, which means the method is highly accurate. Accurate and comprehensive scientific data is the most important initial stage of any attempt to conserve species.

This approach should deliver a more reliable and accurate way to carry out puffin counts. The exercise on the Isle of May will support consideration of the approach to take in Caithness. It may be one step forward for puffin counting, but there are great hopes it will result in many steps forward for the accurate monitoring of other species that are important to SSE in its operations.

Find out more here.

illustration of three birds in navy

What it’s worth

The AI model has accelerated the bird-counting process and has boosted the accuracy of data.

AI bird counting could potentially revolutionise the way that wildlife monitoring takes place in the future. It’s currently being considered as a monitoring tool for other wildlife species such as dolphins and porpoises, and the data collected will help ensure that wind farms operate safely in the future.

The technology has recently been tested during the seabird’s breeding season on the famous Isle of May in the Firth of Forth. Four cameras in position on the island gathered footage and automatically detected and counted the birds until they recently left the island.

If successful it is expected the technology will be used for a number of species recognition projects around SSE sites including hydropower stations and wind farms.

Testimonial

As a leading generator of renewable electricity and one of the largest electricity network companies in the UK, our assets can have far reaching consequences across a wide range of issues, from reducing the effects of global climate change to supporting local habitats. “The impacts of our hydro and wind farm operations and our transmission and distribution networks need to be actively managed and what initiatives like the Flying Squad show is that there are also incredible opportunities to be had in protecting and enhancing existing and new habitats as we harness natural resources such as water and wind for renewable energy generation.”

Rachel McEwen Chief Sustainability Officer, SSE

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