Britain’s gannets surf the web as well as the waves for the first time

Gannets Les Etacs Bill Black, courtesy Alderney Wildlife Trust (3)From Alderney Wildlife Trust

free flying gannetA new and experimental project was launched today offering an unrivalled insight into the lifecycle of Britain’s largest native seabird, the northern gannet.  The project entitled ‘Track a Gannet’, or T.A.G. for short, is jointly run by Britain’s smallest Wildlife Trust, the Alderney Wildlife Trust (AWT), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the University of Liverpool, and has enabled gannets to be put under surveillance using the 3G mobile network. The project is unique in that:

  • T.A.G is the first time 3G live tracking has been used on seabirds and is a world first for ‘real time’ tracking of a seabird being available to the general public
  • T.A.G is delivering daily discoveries into the vital importance of the English Channel to these birds as they fish over vast areas. The maximum track for a single trip recorded since the tags were enabled on the 8th June is in excess of 800km
  • For the first time real time tracking has been combined with a live streaming webcam here
  • Data collected from the tags will be vitally important in understanding the potential impacts of off-shore developments in the English Channel and will be used to respond to a variety of development issues
  • Alderney’s gannet populations are the most southerly in the British Isles. Northern gannets are identified as an ‘Amber listed’ in the Birds of Conservation Concern 3 (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), and perhaps one of the most charismatic of British breeding seabirds.

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The technology

tagThe tracking is done by fitting prototype GPS tags which have been developed by the BTO and the Universities of East Anglia and Lisbon and transmit data in near real time. The devices were attached to the tail feathers of 20 northern gannets by a team from the AWT, BTO and University of Liverpool, and connect the birds with any 3G enabled mobile network they come into contact with, at which time the tags download the track of where the birds have been.   The tags transmit the flight paths of the gannets to the website which updates every time a bird comes within range of the European 3G network. The website offers the most ‘real time’ form of monitoring ever attempted on birds at sea.


Watching the nesting gannet colony LIVE online

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe same webpage also has a live streaming GannetCam webcam which is situated on the Ortac gannet colony. The webcam enables both scientists and the public to get a much more detailed glimpse into the birds’ behaviour within their colony. In fact, several of the birds with tags on are nesting in front of the camera and can, therefore, be followed live both through the transmitters and the camera. If tags survive until the chicks have left our waters it is hoped that the project will yield the first live streaming data from gannets heading to their wintering grounds.

Protecting the gannets for the future

IMG_5169aAlderney hosts a number of important seabird colonies in the English Channel and with six wind and three tidal developments proposed in waters surrounding the island under consideration by UK, French and Alderney governments, the Alderney Wildlife Trust is increasingly concerned about the need to understand and protect its seabirds.

Our vision for ‘Living Seas’ includes ensuring development in our seas is ecologically sustainable and it is only with increased knowledge of the marine environment that this can be fully achieved.

T.A.G. is an AWT co-ordinated project which has been jointly supported by the University of Liverpool, the Alderney Commission for Renewable Energy (ACRE), local businesses and members of the general public who have sponsored and named birds themselves. See list of tag sponsors including our own Action For Wildlife on the website here


The T.A.G. page is now live so you can start seeing the birds and their tracks. It is likely that the website will be modified soon so we only see the last three days of tracks (data from when the tags went on will be stored). Another eight tags to replace the ones that failed will go on to birds shortly to increase the data set.Gannets Les Etacs Bill Black, courtesy Alderney Wildlife Trust