Where a large number of birds fall victim to wind energy
More wind power should slow climate change – but necessary systems and power lines put birds at risk. The study shows hot spots in and around Europe. One of them is in Germany.
HA large study identified several regions in Europe where birds are particularly at risk from wind turbines and power lines. In addition to southern Spain and parts of the French Mediterranean coast, these dangerous hotspots also include the German Baltic coast.
In the “Journal of Applied Ecology,” the research team, made up of more than 50 researchers, names bird species particularly endangered and recommends specific measures to protect the animals.
The switch to renewable energies aims to reduce climate change and is also being vigorously promoted by the federal government. In Europe, power from onshore wind turbines should increase from about 169 gigawatts in 2018 to 760 gigawatts in 2050, the team wrote.
The pipeline network should also be expanded accordingly. North Africa and the Middle East – two important regions for migratory birds – also want to focus more on renewable energy sources.
Gulls and birds of prey are severely affected
Jethro Gold’s team at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, which includes researchers from 15 countries – including several from Germany, writes that “if poorly planned or planned, wind farms and power lines can increase the mortality of vulnerable birds.” As examples of weak birds, they cite large waterfowl, gulls, storks and birds, as well as owls, eagles and other birds of prey.
In the large-scale project, more than 50 researchers used GPS data for nearly 1,500 birds of 27 mostly large species. They compared this information to wind farms and power lines in and around Europe, including North Africa and the Middle East. They paid special attention to the flight altitudes of the species in question: flight altitudes of 10 to 60 meters were considered critically endangered by power lines and 15 to 135 meters by wind turbines.
The dangerous hotspots were mainly along important routes for migratory birds and in their breeding grounds: in addition to the German Baltic coast, the team named the western Mediterranean coast of France, southern Spain, including the Strait of Gibraltar and eastern Romania. The Bosphorus, Sinai and the Moroccan coast of the Mediterranean are also considered dangerous areas for birds.
Power lines pose the greatest threat to the following five species of birds: white storks (Ciconia ciconia), spoon birds (Platalea leucorodia), dead pelicans (Cygnus cygnus), eagle owls (Bubo bubo) and Iberian eagles (Aquila adalberti). In addition to the eagle owl, swans, and spoonbills, wind turbines are a particular threat to cranes (Grus grus) and white geese (Anser albifrons).
Regarding both hotspots and endangered species, the researchers explicitly stress that their assessment is based largely on the number of wind turbines and available data. This is especially true for Germany, where there is a lot of GPS data as well as a relatively high density of wind turbines.
In general, these systems should be minimized at identified collision hotspots or – if necessary – secured by special measures.
Marking on and off during flight times can help
In the case of power lines, for example, this involves labeling power cables more clearly. The rotating blades of wind turbines can also be better identified, and these systems can also be turned off or throttled at times when birds are in high flight, for example during bird migration. In addition, wind turbines can be equipped with cameras or radar so that they automatically turn off when birds approach.
The researchers complain that wind turbine risk assessments are often only made after the site in question has been selected, since the purely economic aspects are at the forefront of operators. “We know from previous studies that there are many more suitable sites for wind turbines than we need to achieve our energy goals by 2050,” says lead author Gauld. “If we can improve our biodiversity risk assessment, which includes bird strike risks, early in the planning process, we will reduce the impact of these developments on wildlife while still achieving our climate goals.”