The project, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, is led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and used GPS location data from 65 bird-tracking studies to find out where birds most frequently fly at a dangerous height, defined as between 10 and 60 meters above the ground for power lines and between 15 and 135 meters for wind turbines. This has allowed the team of researchers - Europa Press reports - to identify the areas where these birds would be most sensitive to the development of wind farms or onshore power lines. Thus, the resulting vulnerability maps reveal that collision hotspots are particularly concentrated along important migratory routes, along coasts and near breeding sites. These include the western Mediterranean coast of France, southern Spain and the Moroccan coast (such as around the Strait of Gibraltar), eastern Romania, the Sinai Peninsula and the Baltic coast of Germany.
Specifically, the GPS data collected concerned a total of 1,454 birds of 27 species, mostly large fliers, such as white storks. Exposure to risk varied, depending on the species, with Eurasian spoonbill, eagle owl, barn owl, whooper swan, Iberian imperial eagle and white stork being among those that consistently flew at heights where they were at risk of collision.
The study involved a team of researchers from 15 countries and organizations such as the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds of the United Kingdom, and the Cavanilles Institute of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology of the University of Valencia.
The authors state that the development of new wind turbines and transmission power lines should be minimized in these highly sensitive areas. And they recommend including signage on power lines to make them more visible, as well as the implementation of systems that allow wind turbines to be turned off during periods of high bird traffic.
According to these scientists, the transition to decarbonization of energy is essential to avoid runaway climate change. Onshore wind power capacity in Europe is expected to increase almost fourfold by 2050, while countries in the Middle East and North Africa, such as Morocco and Tunisia, aim to increase the share of electricity supply from this type of energy.
However, they warn that the expansion of renewable energy infrastructure needed to achieve this poses a challenge for wildlife conservation due to collision and electrocution risks, especially for birds. The work is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) as part of the NEXUSS Centre for Doctoral Training.