Could windfarm projects cause Norfolk mussel population to die of stress?

PUBLISHED: 15:44 12 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:44 12 July 2019

Vattenfall has assured mussels growing along the East Anglian shore (pictured) will be protected.  Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Vattenfall has assured mussels growing along the East Anglian shore (pictured) will be protected. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Gerard Koudenburg

New research has suggested that Norfolk’s famous mussel population could be at risk if precautions aren’t taken to limit noise from the creation of offshore wind farms.

Thomas Large of Brancaster Bay Shellfish. Picture: Instagram/Brancaster Bay ShellfishThomas Large of Brancaster Bay Shellfish. Picture: Instagram/Brancaster Bay Shellfish

Marine scientists from Edinburgh's Napier and Heriot Watt universities have discovered that the molluscs can detect changing sound levels in their environment.

The research showed that increased levels of noise impacts the shellfish's DNA, meaning it grows slower and spends more time filtering algae - making it more vulnerable to predators.

And with plans submitted by energy giants Vattenfall and Orsted to create two of the largest wind farms in the country off the north Norfolk coast, noise pollution while they are constructed will inevitably rise.

Thomas Large, from Brancaster, is the seventh generation of his family to fish for shellfish.

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Mr Large has been running Brancaster Bay Shellfish since he left school 30 years ago, and says that wind turbines are already having a minor effect on mussels.

"There are two different types of mussels we fish for, sub-literal and inter-tidal. Sub literal shellfish are the ones which are further out to sea and inter-tidal are those which we find on the mudflats, for example," he said.

"We are seeing fewer outcrops of sub-literal mussels because the wind turbines are quite wide at the base, and so when they go in they do disturb the environment. But 99pc of what we fish is inter-tidal so it doesn't make a huge difference."

Mr Large added that although research suggests noise pollution from passing ships was not "immediately dangerous", he did not believe it would make any difference at all.

"Mussels don't have ears," he said. "I can't really see why they would be affected by noise so I doubt anything will change in the next five years, or even a decade."

Katherine Wood, Vattenfall's head of consenting (Offshore), said: "Mussels are one of the species that have been considered in our detailed assessment work which indicates that they are not a species impacted by the project. No mussel beds were found within the survey areas for Norfolk Boreas or Vanguard. They thrive in habitats quite different to those that exist in the deeper water, tens of kilometres offshore, where the wind farms would be built.

"Measures to reduce noise pollution are proposed for both projects, and will be agreed with the regulators before the start of construction. The projects will also look to minimise the number of vessel movements during construction and operation."

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