Better utilisation and transparency of bird data collected by powerline companies

Swallows by Cathy Ryden

Author(s): Kettel, E., Thaxter, C.B., Oppel, S., Carryer, A., Innis, L. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W.

Published: November 2021   Pages: 9pp

Journal: Journal of Environmental Management Volume: 302

Article No.: 114063

Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.114063

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New BTO research has examined the extent to which data on avian electrocutions and collisions are collected by companies responsible for high-voltage powerlines across Europe, and made recommendations to develop best practice.
The continued increase in global energy demand requires expanding networks of power supply. High-voltage overhead powerlines, however, pose a collision and electrocution risk to some bird species if poorly sited or designed. Most powerline companies are legally required to mitigate these impacts, and so a range of data on bird mortality, abundance and mitigation effectiveness are often collected. But such data are not always available or accessible, preventing a wider-scale understanding of how vulnerable species may be. A new BTO paper published this week, in collaboration with RSPB, and the Renewables Grid Initiative, summarises the results of a questionnaire and workshop that brought together industry, conservationists and academics within Europe, to discuss these aspects and potential ways forward. Despite enthusiasm for sharing information, to date the task has been hampered by the lack of a centralised database, standardisation of data collection methods and data confidentiality. To overcome these barriers, a stepwise approach is suggested, developing further guidance around field methods, and collating broader information about individual studies. This approach would, in time, help unlock the full potential value of these data, reducing potential impacts on vulnerable bird populations.


There is in an ongoing expansion of powerlines as a result of an increasing global demand for energy. Powerlines have the potential to negatively impact wild bird populations through collisions and/or electrocution, and reducing bird powerline collision and electrocution risk is a priority for companies running high-voltage powerlines (known as Transmission System Operators (TSOs)). Most TSOs are legally required to assess any potentially significant impacts via Enivronmental Impact Assessments, and so potentially collect a significant amount of data on the presence of species, species behaviour, and observed mortality rates. The value of such data, if available, for reducing and preventing bird casualties could be enhanced by increasing availability across TSOs and other decision-makers. We review the extent to which the sharing of data is happening across Europe, and how the quality, scope and availability of bird data collected by European TSOs could be improved, through use of a questionnaire and workshop with TSOs, conservationists and academics. Sixteen European TSOs responded to the questionnaire and 30 stakeholders attended the workshop. There was wide recognition of the value of different types of data on birds at powerlines, and a positive attitude to working together to share and enhance data across stakeholders to achieve the shared goal of reducing bird mortalities. Key barriers to the sharing of data included a lack of a centralised database, the lack of standardised methods to collect bird data and concerns over the confidentiality of data and reports. In order to overcome these barriers and develop a collaborative approach to data sharing, and ultimately inform best practice to reduce significant negative impacts on bird populations, we suggest a stepwise approach that (1) develops guidance around the field methods and data to be collected for mitigation effectiveness and (2) shares meta-data/bibliography of studies of powerline impacts/mitigation effectiveness for birds. In time, a more structured approach to the sharing of data and information could be developed, to make data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.
Kettel et al. 2021 graphical abstract


The authors thank everyone who participated in the survey and in the workshop, and particularly Luca Moiana, Maeve Flynn, Pedro Fernandes, Ricardo Martins and Celcile Saint-Simon for taking the extra time to discuss their answers over the phone. Thanks also go to those who helped to distribute the questionnaire, including Noa Steiner and Alice Collier.

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