GULLS in Cumbria are being fitted with GPS ‘backpacks’ to see if their feeding and flight patterns are being disrupted by wind farms.

A research study by the British Trust for Ornithology is following the birds over the next two years by fitting them with tracking systems.

The lesser black-backed and herring gulls have been tagged in their nests with devices weighing about half an ounce (15g) attached to a small harness.

The research has been funded by the Department for Energy and Climate Change in an effort to explore how the birds use the coast and interact with offshore windfarms.

The Walney off-shore wind farm is one of the largest in the world, with 102 turbines and plans for a further 200.

Project head Nigel Clark said because the devices record the height the bird is flying at, they will enable them to find out if they could be hit by the turbine blades.

He added: “It’s a great opportunity to understand an awful lot more about the life histories of these birds – Walney is a fantastic colony and we’re lucky we’ve been able to get funding to work there.”

A similar experiment has been carried out at Orford Ness in Suffolk in which scientists fitted state-of-the-art GPS tags to lesser black-backed Gulls during breeding seasom.

The tags are solar powered and download data automatically when birds move to within a few kilometres of a mast at their breeding colony.

In addition, they transmit data about their altitude and acceleration.

The results are revealing the movements of gulls in new detail, and BTO now has data showing the birds' movements and behaviour in the breeding season, on migration and over winter.

Twenty five birds at South Walney have been tagged.