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Understanding and tackling the electrocution and collision threats to vultures – Andalusia seminar

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Young Egyptian vulture perrched on an electricity pylon
Young Egyptian vulture perrched on an electricity pylon

It’s estimated that five times as many birds are killed by electrocution and collision with electricity pylons than poisoning in Spain, 33,000 birds each year including many vultures. The Autonomous Government of Andalusia, Junta de Andalusia, hosted a professional development workshop for environmental agents which we along were staff from GREFA working on the Aquilla LIFE project were invited to attend.

Threats to vultures caused by electricity infrastructure 

The Vulture Multi-species Action Plan published last year identified the often overlooked threat to vultures posed by electricity infrastructure particularly electrocution and collisions. 

The threat of electrocution occurs when vultures perch on poorly insulated medium-tension electricity pylons, the design of which make it easier for the bird to touch both the cables and the pylon at the same time. Whilst collision with power lines occurs when vultures are unable to distinguish the powerline against the background of the natural vegetation as they use them to navigate or fly near them. 

The threat varies among different taxonomic groups, whilst affecting vultures, the biggest threat to vultures is intended and unintended poisoning.

The deaths from these threats are sadly underreported, for example, in Spain only 20% of the mortality caused by electrocution and 10% of the mortality caused by collision recorded. 

Mitigating these threats

To tackle these threats involves bringing together a variety of agencies together to share information. The Junta de Andalusia recently organised a training seminar for governmental environmental agents, to share knowledge and practical sessions to explore this threat. 

Part of the three day workshop involved a practical course identifying the pylons that are the most dangerous to birds, the most dangerous are often characterised by:

  • Small distance between the cables (less than 1m)
  • Small distance between a cable and a metal surface
  • Distance between perches (when conducts are distributed in two or three levels)

There are a large number of different models of electricity pylons used and as part of the seminar participants were informed of how to evaluate and categorise the risk posed (extremely dangerous, dangerous, moderate) in order to prioritise the actions needed to carry out actions to mitigate the threat. 

Participants during the workshop
Participants during the workshop

Working with electricity companies some of the most dangerous pylons are being equipped to tackle the threat posed by electrocution and collision. For example installing conductor or crosshead cables in whole or in part across the pylon, as well as the installation of devices that prevent cables falling significantly decreases the number of deaths from electrocution. This on average costs around €300-3000 depending on the type of pylon. 

Insulating cables on electricity power lines
Insulating cables on electricity power lines

Whilst using high visibility reflectors and adding spirals to cables help improve the visibility of power lines which would reduce the risk of collision with power cables.  

Hisgh visibility reflective detractors
Hisgh visibility reflective detractors

What Spain is doing to tackle this threat

Spain is at the forefront of legislating to protect birds against the threats posed by the electricity infrastructure issuing a Royal Decree in 2008 (Royal Decree 1432/2008) by:

  • Obliging all Autonomous Regions to declare specific areas with high risk of electrocution, usually protected natural areas 
  • Obliging that the electricity companies use only safe models of power pylons for new installations 
  • Administering penalties to electricity companies who fail to insulate a pylon that has caused a death after being notified of an earlier mortality 

This is a fantastic example of organisations and government working together to protect birds including vultures, however, we here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation urge all our partners to follow as rigorous protocol for suspected deaths from electrocution as for poisoning (strict chain of custody, necropsy, analyses) to ensure deaths are recorded correctly and it can be used in evidence for prosecution against electricity companies who fail to comply with various national legislation. 

Resources from the Andalusia seminar

Below are a series of resources made available from the seminar held by Junta de Andalusia (more to follow)

Seminar agenda (Spanish) CURSO IAAP TENDIDOS ELECTRICOS-1.pdf Adobe Acrobat Document 100.0 KB Download

Project across Europe

Many of the Vulture Conservation Foundation’s LIFE projects such as Vultures Back to LIFE, LIFE Re-Vultures and LIFE GYPHELP are working to protect vultures from the risks posed by the electricity infrastructure.

Other projects have also been funded from the European Union’s LIFE+ fund that have demonstrated a significant impact on the reduction of deaths caused by electrocution and collision such as LIFE Birds on Electrogrid. The report from this project is available to download below.

Resources and reports on electrocution and collison threats Guidance on Energy Transmission Infrastructure and EU nature legislation For thise concerned by or involved in the planning, design, implementation or approval of energy infrastructure plans and projects. It is intended to give them an overview of the implications of energy infrastructure proposals on Natura 2000 and EU protected species and habitats and approaches to mitigating any negative effects. Published by European Commission, 2018 Energy guidance and EU Nature legislatio Adobe Acrobat Document 4.1 MB Download Power poles correction in Special Protection Areas This layman’s report outlines the actions carried out as part of European Union’s LIFE funded project Correction of Dangerous Overhead Cables in Special Protection Areas for Birds in the Region of Murcia (LIFE06 NAT/E/000214). Power poles correction in Special Protec Adobe Acrobat Document 2.6 MB Download Birds’ protection and Electricicty transmission lines Report published by Lithuanian Ornithological Society as part of the European Union’s LIFE funded Birds on the Electrogrid ( LIFE13 BIO/LT/001303) Birds protection and electricity transmi Adobe Acrobat Document 612.4 KB Download Guidelines on How to Avoid or Mitigate Impact of Electricity Power Grids on Migratory Birds in the African-Eurasian Region These guidelines offer various technical and legislative approaches for avoiding or mitigating the impact of electrocution and collision of migratory birds across the African-Eurasian region as well as suggestions for assessing and monitoring the effectiveness of mitigation and preventive measures.

Published 2012 Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals guidelines for mitigaton.pdf Adobe Acrobat Document 3.2 MB Download Preventing the Electrocution of Birds on Power Infrastructure This booklet has been produced to highlight the issue of avian electrocution as outlined in a motion proposed by the International Association for Falconry and the Conservation of Birds of Prey (IAF) and accepted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at its 2016 World Conservation Congress.

Published by IAF 2016 electrocution_booklet3_LR.PDF Adobe Acrobat Document 2.6 MB Download

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