Why we need to make ‘sustainable’ development truly bird-safe

Planting vegetation to stop the spread of deserts, bringing electricity to rural communities… these are positive steps, as long as the right preparations are made. Sadly, poorly-planned ‘sustainable’ development is having unintended but devastating consequences for threatened birds that migrate through Africa and the Middle East.


By Steffen Oppel, Senior Conservation Scientist, RSPB (BirdLife in the UK)

‘Sustainable development’ is a laudable goal of the United Nations to improve livelihoods, but all too often the associated development projects are not actually environmentally sustainable. Many countries in Africa and the Middle East aim to improve livelihoods of people living in rural areas by providing electricity – a convenience that many people take for granted. The powerlines that connect the households of millions of people to a centralised electricity grid are, however, often poorly designed, such that they cause inadvertent death to large birds.

Most birds can safely sit on a powerline without being harmed. However, if a power pole is poorly designed, large birds that land on such a pole come into contact with both the grounded support structure and the live wire – which leads to instant death of the bird by electrocution, as well as potential electricity outages. The electricity outages are a constant nuisance for local communities, and incur maintenance costs for electricity providers. Many designs exist to build powerlines that are perfectly safe for birds of all sizes to roost on, but unfortunately these designs are often not used.

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