Reducing the impacts of power lines on birds

Common cranes grus grus © Nick

Scaling up renewable energy requires new infrastructure such as power lines. Depending on their design and routing, these can create electrocution and collision risks to certain bird species. BirdLife International is helping prevent bird electrocutions, working with medium voltage grid operators to replace or insulate dangerous infrastructure. With the Renewables Grid Initiative, BirdLife works with high voltage grid operators in Europe to develop and implement better practices to reduce bird collisions and other environmental impacts.

Avian mortality due to collisions with power lines and electrocution can be high (Jenkins et al. 2010, Bevanger 1998). Power line construction can also influence species through changes in habitat such as tree clearance. Electrocution is only a risk in low and medium voltage networks. BirdLife has worked with grid operators in these networks for decades in countries such as Hungary, Bulgaria and the Sudan to identify dangerous support poles and have them replaced or insulated.

To combat climate change, a large shift towards renewable energy will be necessary, which will result in a large demand for further energy infrastructure including high voltage transmission lines. In Germany alone, 3,600km additional transmission lines will need to be built over the next ten years to meet the energy demands of the country (Grid development plan 2013). To ensure power grid expansion is not detrimental to wildlife, collaboration between environmental organisations and industry partners will be vital.

BirdLife Europe is a member of the Renewables Grid Initative (RGI), which brings together environmental NGOs and transmission system operators (TSOs) to develop and implement good practice in high voltage grid development. In the BESTGRID project (2013-15), four TSOs (National Grid, Elia, TenneT, 50Hertz and Terna) and environmental non-governmental organisations (BirdLife Europe and Germanwatch) applied these ideas in pilot projects in Germany, Belgium and the UK. Meetings across Europe involving grid operators, NGOs and government officials enabled discussions and opportunities to be identified for collaborative work towards common goals. BirdLife’s BESTGRID report (Scrase 2015) outlines best practices and highlights how early involvement of NGOs in decision-making processes can improve plans, reduce impacts and increase public support.

When new pylons are introduced into a landscape, tall trees in a corridor 50-70m wide are removed, resulting in changed habitats that should be considered in the planning stage. In biodiverse ancient woodland, this deforestation will likely have negative impacts, whilst the same habitat changes through a monoculture landscape may allow the colonization of new species resulting in increased biodiversity. In Massachusetts, powerline corridors of certain width and quality are utilized as breeding habitat for scrub-shrub bird species of conservation concern (King et al. 2009, Askins et al. 2012), while ground nesting birds in coastal grazing marshes in the UK were less likely to be found near power lines (Milsom et al. 2000). Decisions need to therefore be made in the context of the habitat in which the infrastructure will be present, as the effects are highly context dependent.

This case study is taken from ‘The Messengers: What birds tell us about threats from climate change and solutions for nature and people’. To download the report in full click here

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ABS Energy Research (2008) The T and D Report, Edition 7. London: ABS Energy Research.Askins, R. A., Folsom-O’Keefe, C. M. and Hardy, M. C. (2012) Effects of Vegetation, Corridor Width and Regional Land Use on Early Successional Birds on Powerline Corridors. PLoS ONE 7:e31520
Bevanger, K. (1998) Biological and conservation aspects of bird mortality caused by electricity power lines: a review. Biol. Conserv. 86: 67–76.
BirdLife International (2015) Protecting nature in power grid planning. Sandy, Bedfordshire: Stichting BirdLife Europe.
Grid Development plan (2013) Grid Development Plan 2013, second draft. Available at:
Jenkins, A. R., Smallie, J. J. and Diamond, M. (2010) Avian collisions with power lines: a global review of causes and mitigation with a South African perspective. Bird Conserv. Int. 20: 263–278.
King, D. I., Chandler, R. B., Collins, J. M., Peterson, W. R. and Lautzenheiser, T. E. (2009) Effects of width, edge andhabitat on the abundance and nesting success of scrub–shrub birds in powerline corridors. Biol. Conserv. 142: 2672–2680.
Milsom, T. P., Langton, S. D., Parkin, W. K., Peel, S., Bishop, J. D., Hart, J. D. and Moore, N. P. (2000) Habitat models of bird species' distribution: an aid to the management of coastal grazing marshes. J. Appl. Ecol. 37: 706–727.
Scrase I. (2015) Protecting nature in power grid planning. Recommendations from the BESTGRID project. Available at

Compiled: 2015    Copyright: 2015   

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2015) Reducing the impacts of power lines on birds. Downloaded from on 19/03/2018

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