Birds and Power Lines: mapping of bird flight paths

The project ‘Birds and Power Lines: mapping of bird flight paths’ received recognition from the European Commission with the European Environment Award 2014 in the ‘Business and Biodiversity’ category.

  • Observatories
  • Environment

Environmental Department

A year ago, on June 5, 2014, coinciding with the World Environment Day, the project received recognition in the same category in the Spanish section of the awards. The Chairman of the Company, José Folgado, received it from the Prince of Asturias.

The project is encompassed within a broad programme of activities of Red Eléctrica in relation to the environment and the conservation of biodiversity and emerges as a solution to the problems arising from the interactions between birds and power transmission lines.

The network of electricity lines in Spain has more than 265,000 km of line, of which more than 40,000 correspond to high-voltage transmission lines managed by Red Eléctrica. Spain is one of the European countries with the greatest diversity and abundance of birds due to the good overall state of conservation of their habitats. This means that, often, the risk to birds is identified whenever projects for new power lines represent a threat to their flight paths.

The project involved the development of a tool based on geographic information systems (GIS) that allows decision making in the early stages of planning and development of projects for new power lines, as well as the prioritization of mitigating actions; considering at all times the risk that the transmission infrastructure may represent to birds.

For this purpose, it is making a very significant effort in the collection and standardization of existing information on the flight paths of a total of 45 species of birds considered of greatest interest due to their conservation status and their sensitivity to the negative impacts of power transmission lines.

This information is being used to draft sensitivity maps, taking into account various criteria and integrating the outcome into a national geographic information system. The tool can be applied at different stages of work, offering in each case the most suitable information for grid planning, for determining the power line corridors of least impact for new projects and to prioritize the implementation of mitigating measures for the existing high-voltage electricity grid.

The tool developed will be shared with the various environmental authorities, so that it becomes a common framework of reference in the environmental assessment of projects and for the programming of corrective and mitigating actions regarding the impact of the power transmission grid on birds. In 2014, this action has been completed in 14 regions and in 2015 it will be completed in the entire Spanish territory.

Economic, environmental and social benefits

The project represents a significant boost to the conservation of biodiversity in the framework of environmental policy and corporate responsibility of Red Eléctrica de España. It is expected that the implementation of its findings will provide direct benefits for the conservation of birdlife and biodiversity in general. Biodiversity conservation is an essential step in the preservation of natural capital and carrying out actions directly related to biodiversity generates a set of benefits, such as tourism or the redistribution of wealth among towns and rural areas, therefore generating incentives for the recovery of places and activities marginalized by the current economic development model.

Moreover, the project offers Red Eléctrica and the competent public authorities responsible for environmental assessment and biodiversity conservation a shared resource that improves the transparency of the environmental permitting process for plans and projects of new lines and, therefore facilitates the adoption of solutions that have the least possible impact on the environment. The project could be of interest to other companies in sectors related to electricity and renewable energy (installation of wind farms), which would increase the aforementioned benefits.

In short, with this product, a significant improvement of environmental nature is achieved in the implementation of the electricity infrastructure, which are necessary for the development and well-being of society, and responds to the growing demand from stakeholders linked to Red Eléctrica for products and services that respect the environment, under the premise that the conservation of healthy habitats and ecosystems that are alive contributes to the sustainable development of the territory and its inhabitants.