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