The problem of collisions with electricity power lines has been identified as a significantly negative threat to endangered bird species, including the corn crake (Crex crex), eurasian bittern (Botaurus stellaris) and ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca) in Slovakia. Also other rare species were identified among victims, such as the lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus), eastern imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) and Saker falcon (Falco cherrug). Systematic survey and prevention of such collisions has not been part of any conservation effort in the country to date. It is therefore extremely important to take action, especially in the breeding and feeding habitats of the EU Birds Directive Annex I species, as well as in their wintering and roosting areas and along their migration routes.
The LIFE ENERGY project targeted 10 bird species listed in Annex I of the EU Birds Directive, all of which breed in the 13 Natura 2000 network sites in the project areas. These areas include migration routes, feeding habitats and roosting places. Prevention of collisions of birds with electricity power wires is the most important part of the project, through the installation of bird flight diverters, restoration of windbreaks and other measures, though other bird population supporting activities will also be performed, such as increasing food resources. The projects main objectives are: to reinforce conservation measures focused on the 10 priority bird species and their habitats; to formulate a conceptual solution to the problem of bird collisions with power lines and to prepare a strategic document; to strengthen cooperation with electric companies through the implementation of project activities; and to increase the number of European ground squirrel or suslik (Spermophilus citellus) in two areas. This species, listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive, is a fundamental prey to some of the targeted bird species.
LIFE ENERGY fully reached or even exceeded its objectives in preventing bird-flight collisions with electricity power lines in the southern part of Slovakia, with a focus on ten protected bird species listed in the Birds Directive. This was achieved by installing bird-flight diverters on 77 km of the riskiest sections of distribution power lines, planting trees for future bird-flight breaks, and nesting and prey-base supportive measures. The projects methodology can be applied globally.
The projects methodology for the identification of dangerous power lines was included in a wider practical Guidance, developed in close cooperation with electricity transmission and distribution companies. The Guidance is implemented in state conservancy bodies and the approach is also widely requested by other countries. The methodology for identifying risky power lines and monitoring the measures applied has convinced electricity companies to continue installation of bird-flight diverters beyond the original project areas. It provides an effective systemic approach to the problem of bird collisions, and is being introduced into various international and national policy documents and reports for a longer-term impact. An additional success of the project was its extensive publicity campaign, including an attractive and interactive exhibition.
Bird-flight diverters and other measures increased bird survival, nesting and the prey base in a cost-effective manner. After the installation of 8 601 diverters on the 77 km of the most risky power lines, at least 200 individuals of the target bird species were protected from collisions every year. The 550 trees planted were expected to achieve their protective function within 5-10 years. The project team installed 55 durable aluminium nest boxes and 40 nests, to improve nesting opportunities in four Natura 2000 sites (SPAs), favouring 254 breeding attempts of 5 bird species (including 25 attempts by Falco cherrug). A total of 2 607 birds of 94 species were treated in the involved rescue centres (i.e. about 500 birds per year; 13 clearly identified as injured by collisions with electricity wires and 63 by electrocution, but the real numbers affected are likely to be higher), and half were returned to nature. Of these, 22 target birds of 4 species were treated(45% returned to nature). Experience and knowledge gathered during the project lifetime were presented in expert articles published in a special edition of Raptor Journal.
A fluctuating population of the ground squirrel (an important prey species) was saved from extinction at one site and stabilised on another, after implementation of proper grassland management on 10.8 ha and supplemental feeding. Thus the area of the EU Habitats Directive habitat type Lowland hay meadows (6510) was expanded as well.
The project contributes to the implementation of the EU Birds Directive, Habitats Directive and Natura 2000 network, EU Biodiversity Strategy, EU green infrastructure strategy, as well as the Bern and Bonn Conventions. The project also contributes to implementation of the European Action Plans for eastern imperial eagle, Saker falcon, ground squirrel, and others. The project provided expertise for International Council on Large Electric Systems (CIGR) and the Carpathian Convention. At national level, the projects "Guidance on bird protection at above-ground electric power lines in Slovakia (2019)" has been distributed by the Ministry of Environment to the relevant state organisations for immediate use. At local level, the project promoted social responsibility and carbon footprint reduction goals, through green procurement (e.g. T-shirts/bags produced by the Continental Clothing company with a robust social responsibility policy).
The project team implemented and validated the high effectiveness of three different bird-flight diverters and innovative installation methods, including two new FireFly installation devices in Slovakia (an adapted drone and an on-wire-moving machine) to improve installation in difficult conditions (e.g. over water).
By reducing bird collisions, the approach saves the electricity companies considerably on maintenance costs by reducing damage, and decreases power outages that inconvenience people. During the project, power outages were reduced by 78% on the treated sections. In addition, the social value of birds rescued thanks to the project was estimated to be more than 0.7 million every year.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).