UN review provides guidelines to stop millions of bird deaths due to power lines

25 November 2011

Millions of birds die each year through electrocution or fatal collisions with power lines, according to a United Nations review which provides solutions to protect them, while calling on governments to implement measures to address this issue.

The review, comprising of two reports which were presented this week at a UN wildlife conference in Bergen, Norway, focuses on the African-Eurasian region, but provide guidelines that can be executed at a global level.

According a press release issued yesterday by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), power lines constitute one of the major causes of unnatural death for birds. In the African-Eurasian region alone, hundreds of thousands of birds die annually from electrocution and tens of millions of others from collisions with power lines.

Large birds migrating across the region such as pelicans, storks, flamingos, cranes and owls seem to be more affected, and the review warns that their populations may be significantly declining, which could lead to local or regional extinction. In South Africa, for example, 12 per cent of blue cranes – the country’s national bird – are dying every year due to collisions with power lines.

According to the review, electrocution generally happens in open habitats lacking natural perches or nesting trees for birds such as steppes, deserts and wetlands. But collisions occur in every habitat type in the region, especially in areas where large numbers of birds congregate, such as migration corridors or small islands.

The reports present recommendations for governments, electric power companies, and conservation organizations to reduce the impact of power grids on birds.

“The international guidelines present a number of appropriate legislative and policy actions and some creative technical measures on how to mitigate and reduce the vast number of unnatural bird mortalities caused by electricity power grids,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

According to UNEP, the most effective measure to avoid both electrocution and collision is underground cabling, which has already been done in countries such as the Netherlands and in certain parts of Belgium, the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark and Germany. However, this method is expensive, making it unfeasible to implement in the entire African-Eurasian region.

Other less expensive measures include insulating dangerous electric parts of the lines and installing bird-friendly perching and nesting devices as well as markers or bird flight diverters in overhead wires.

“Electrocution of birds is not just a conservation issue. It also has economic and financial consequences, as power interruptions and the resulting need for reparations from outages are often caused by bird electrocutions,” said Ms. Mrema.


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