Hotspots in the grid: avian sensitivity and vulnerability to collision risk from energy infrastructure interactions in Europe and north Africa

Wind turbines, Melanie Kocheva/

Author(s): Gauld, J.G., Silva, J.P., Atkinson, P.W., Record, P., Acácio, M., Arkumarev, V., Blas, J., Bouten, W., Burton, N., Catry, I., Champagnon, J., Clewley, G.D., Dagys, M., Duriez, O., Exo, M., Fiedler, W., Flack, A., Friedemann, G., Fritz, J., Garcia-Ripolles, C., Garthe, S., Giunchi, D., Grozdanov, A., Harel, R., Humphreys, E.M., Janssen, R., Kölzsch, A., Kulikova, O., Lameris, T.K., López-López, P., Masden, E.A., Monti, F., Nathan, R., Nikolov, S., Oppel, S., Peshev, H., Phipps, L., Pokrovsky, I., Ross-Smith, V.H., Saravia, V., Scragg, E.S., Sforzi, A., Stoynov, E., Thaxter, C., Van Steelant, W., van Toor, M., Vorneweg, B., Waldenström, J., Wikelski, M., Žydelis, R. & Franco, A.M.A.

Published: April 2022   Pages: 17pp

Journal: Journal of Applied Ecology

Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1111/1365-2664.14160

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As demand for new energy infrastructure is growing, international collaborative research involving BTO has identified areas in Europe and North Africa where the construction of new wind turbines or power lines could pose a risk to migrating birds.


1. Wind turbines and power lines can cause bird mortality due to collision or electrocution. The biodiversity impacts of energy infrastructure (EI) can be minimised through effective landscape-scale planning and mitigation. The identification of high-vulnerability areas is urgently needed to assess potential cumulative impacts of EI while supporting the transition to zero carbon energy.

2. We collected GPS location data from 1,454 birds from 27 species susceptible to collision within Europe and North Africa and identified areas where tracked birds are most at risk of colliding with existing EI. Sensitivity to EI development was estimated for wind turbines and power lines by calculating the proportion of GPS flight locations at heights where birds were at risk of collision and accounting for species' specific susceptibility to collision. We mapped the maximum collision sensitivity value obtained across all species, in each 5 × 5 km grid cell, across Europe and North Africa. Vulnerability to collision was obtained by overlaying the sensitivity surfaces with density of wind turbines and transmission power lines.

3. Results: Exposure to risk varied across the 27 species, with some species flying consistently at heights where they risk collision. For areas with sufficient tracking data within Europe and North Africa, 13.6% of the area was classified as high sensitivity to wind turbines and 9.4% was classified as high sensitivity to transmission power lines. Sensitive areas were concentrated within important migratory corridors and along coastlines. Hotspots of vulnerability to collision with wind turbines and transmission power lines (2018 data) were scattered across the study region with highest concentrations occurring in central Europe, near the strait of Gibraltar and the Bosporus in Turkey.

4. Synthesis and applications. We identify the areas of Europe and North Africa that are most sensitive for the specific populations of birds for which sufficient GPS tracking data at high spatial resolution were available. We also map vulnerability hotspots where mitigation at existing EI should be prioritised to reduce collision risks. As tracking data availability improves our method could be applied to more species and areas to help reduce bird-EI conflicts.

Energy infrastructure can pose a significant risk to birds. The impact of power lines and wind turbines on biodiversity - such as the potential for electrocution or collision - may be greater in areas situated on migration flyways or bottlenecks. As we continue a transition to zero-carbon energy, research is urgently needed to inform development plans and avoid, minimise or mitigate risks to birds.

This study used GPS location data from a total of 1454 birds, of 27 species, to identify collision hotspots across Northern Africa and Europe. The researchers calculated a ‘collision sensitivity value’ by determining the proportion of the tracked flights for each species that occurred at the height of wind turbines and power lines. These 'danger heights' were defined as 10-60 metres above ground for power lines, and 15-135 metres for wind turbines (the altitude range swept by turbine blades). This value was mapped with the density of energy infrastructure across the region to identify geographical areas where vulnerability to collision is particularly high. 

The highest density of hotspots occurs in central Europe, near the strait of Gibraltar and the Bosporus in Turkey. Sensitive areas tended to be concentrated within important migratory corridors or along coastlines, and near breeding locations.

Developers could use the results from this study to avoid constructing new wind turbines and transmission power lines in high sensitivity areas. Furthermore, any developments that do occur in sensitivity hotspots could be accompanied by mitigation measures that reduce the risk to birds; these include making structures more visible and pausing operation during peak bird passage to reduce the collision hazard. By pinpointing locations where existing wind farms and power lines are problematic for birds, the study also highlights that reducing collision risk in these areas must be a conservation priority.


BTO studies on Lesser Black-backed Gulls were supported by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment (OESEA) research programme, the Marine Renewable Energy and the Environment (MaREE) project (funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the European Regional Development Fund, and the Scottish Funding Council), BAE Systems and Natural England.
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