The Netherlands claimed an “international first” after shutting down North Sea offshore wind turbines to help migrating birds pass by safely.

Turbines at wind farms in Borssele and Egmond aan Zee were halted for four hours at the weekend after specialist modelling predicted an influx of birds into the area.

The authorities said the procedure had been agreed in advance with project owners and grid operator TenneT, which had enough notice to stabilise the network.

Turbines will at nighttime operate at "a maximum of two rotations per minute" during the migration period. The shutdown was a pilot initiative ahead of a full-scale implementation of the plan from the autumn of this year.

Dutch energy minister Rob Jetten said: “This is an international first, nowhere in the world are wind farms at sea shut down to protect birds during massive bird migration. All parties involved worked well together and set this up in a relatively short time.”

Bird protection has emerged as a key issue in the massive expansion of North Sea wind power, with the Netherlands alone aiming for 70GW in its waters by 2050.

Concerns over their effects on seabird habitats and migration has already held up consenting of giant UK North Sea wind projects, and efforts to mitigate adverse consequences range from creation of ‘bird hotels’ to painting blades black to deter impacts.