During the implementation of the previous LIFE SAVE the RAPTORS project (LIFE07 NAT/BG/000068), which targeted the Imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) and Saker falcon (Falco cherrug), it became clear that the main cause of death of young Imperial eagles was electrocution by uninsulated electricity power line poles. A study undertaken during the course of that project showed that there were more than 5 000 dangerous electricity poles in the distribution area of the Imperial eagle in Bulgaria.
The long-term objective of LIFE for safe grid was to ensure an increase in the Imperial eagle population in Bulgaria, by reducing mortality caused by uninsulated electricity poles. The projects specific objectives were to increase knowledge of the risk posed by overhead electric power lines, identify areas of high risk and carry out mitigation measures; establish a GIS database of eagle nest sites, temporary settlement areas and hazardous power lines to inform mitigation measures; reduce mortality caused by electrocution and collision with electric power lines in the most important Bulgarian Natura 2000 network sites for the eagle; increase the capacity of key stakeholders (e.g. other electricity line operators in Bulgaria and relevant authorities) for solving the conflicts between birds and power lines; and increase public/stakeholder awareness of the conflict between electric power lines and conservation of the Imperial eagle and other birds.
The LIFE for safe grid project represented an important success story in the conservation of the globally-endangered Imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca). The project implemented electricity power line insulation actions within 26 Imperial eagle territories, representing 79% of the known breeding territories for the species, leading to a 10% increase in the population of Imperial eagle in Bulgaria.
The project partners, the power company EP Yug (formerly EVN Bulgaria AD) and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, planned and constructed 43 km of underground cables. These buried cables replaced 70 km of hazardous overhead power lines in one of the most important Natura 2000 network sites for the Imperial eagle. This completely eliminated the mortality from electrocution in this site. The mortality from electrocution was also completely eliminated in the Harmanli region, where 42 km of power lines made up of 126 km of conductors, was replaced with fully insulated ones the so-called PAS system. This completely eliminates the risk of the birds coming into contact with live conductors and the earthed parts of supporting poles. With the implementation of the PAS system, there is also a significant reduction of the risk of collisions of flying birds with power lines as insulated conductors are more visible and easier to avoid.
Furthermore, the population of Imperial eagles was protected by the insulation of 2 340 dangerous electricity poles. The protective insulation is made of insulating material and is designed to protect the birds from electrocution by simultaneous contact with a live conductor and an earthed part of the pole.
Project activities led to improved electric power supply for local communities and businesses, and raised general public awareness of the importance of the Imperial eagle and the electrocution of birds of prey by dangerous types of electricity poles.
As a result of the project activities, a total of 4 950 hazardous electricity poles within the Imperial eagle territories were identified through the development of a GIS database and field research. The implemented insulation activities generated a genuine know-how and willingness in the electricity company EP Yug to continue the insulation of dangerous power lines and electricity poles. The company has developed a long-term strategy for achieving underground cabling for all these power lines.
A detailed project survey of bird mortality along power lines in the region of the Sliven, before and after project actions, showed that the insulation of the most hazardous electricity poles prevented the deaths of over 100 birds, of 10 different species. The benefits of insulation are particularly high for large birds with large wingspans, long lifespans and a K-strategy for survival (i.e. late maturity and small reproductive potential), such as the Imperial eagle, golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, lesser-spotted eagle, griffon vulture (an introduction in the area), and white stork.
By halting mortality of the globally-endangered Imperial eagle and other bird species due to electrocution and collision with aerial power lines in Natura 2000 sites, the project significantly contributes to the implementation of the National Prioritised Action Frameworks (PAF) for Natura 2000, and the EU Birds and Habitats directives.
Project activities, especially the installation of underground cable to replace overhead power lines and the PAS system on electricity poles, serve as an example for other infrastructure companies in Bulgaria and the EU. EP Yug has participated in workshops and other events to disseminate its experience in this field. The LIFE for safe grid project is an excellent example of cooperation between an environmental NGO and a utility company, which both protects threatened wildlife and secures the energy supply for the local human population. The socio-economic benefits of the project affected most significantly the areas where the activities were implemented. Substantial investments were made in the area of Elhovo and Topolovgrad to improve the energy infrastructure, for example, an area characterised by underdevelopment where the project represents one of the largest investments. The new underground cable and insulated overhead power lines has significantly reduced the number of power outages, and thus the project improved the electric power supply for local communities and businesses.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).