Protection of Steppe Bird Species

03:34 PM, April 23, 2012

Minimizing environmental impacts and preserving biodiversity have been areas of concern for REN for a long time now. This is why REN tries to manage its activities in accordance with, among other things, the Ten Principles of the Global Compact. REN is responsible for the management of Portugal’s electricity system, including the quality and security of supply, which are essential to Portugal’s economic and social development. During the infrastructure planning phase, REN’s concern for finding solutions that would minimize environmental impacts is very clear, especially when developing new grid and network infrastructures.

As business should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges, Environmental Impact Assessments are carried out for most of REN’s projects in order to guarantee that every environmental aspect is taken into account. Therefore, the Alqueva-Balboa interconnection with Spain, in the Portuguese section, was no exception to this rule. The Environmental Impact Statement that was issued in July 2004 established the implementation need for certain compensatory measures regarding the protection of steppe bird species (Crane and Little Bustard). The fact that this line crosses a Special Protection Area (SPA – Moura/Mourão/Barrancos) may create negative impacts in this protected area. The compensatory measures aim at protecting the aforementioned species by compensating the habitat losses and the excess mortality created by the presence of this line. These measures entailed a combined cost of €840,000 over three years.

One of the main threats to these species results from the collision with power lines. REN has accepted responsibility for preventing and mitigating the impacts of this threat, as far as possible, and is convinced that, with this support, it will be able to:

  • learn more about the impacts of electricity transmission activities on these species;
  • learn more about the dynamics of bird movements and identify the most important areas for the conservation of the species that should be taken into account during project development;
  • take action to minimize and offset negative impacts;
  • help increase the population of steppe birds.

Goals of the project

The objective of this project can be typified through the compensation of the Little Bustard and Crane population losses in the SPA due to the line crossing that area. To achieve this objective, the measures carried out look for the increase of quantity and quality of the steppe habitat and the reduction of bird flights crossing the overhead line, between roosting and feeding areas, thereby also reducing collisions with the overhead cables.

After a previous monitoring period, in order to identify and quantify the intervention areas, REN established, in November 2007, a methodological protocol under the Environmental Impact Statement with PROCESL - Engenharia Hidraúlica e Ambiental, Lda. in order to guarantee the implementation and monitoring of these measures.


Compensatory measures

To accomplish these goals, some measures have been undertaken, including the allocation and management of agricultural areas, in order to improve biological value for the abovementioned species. In the Little Bustard’s case, it was not possible to fully reject the possibility of an exclusion effect caused by the power line in this steppe bird population. Therefore, habitat management measures were implemented, which were intended to improve the availability of feeding and roosting areas, and to compensate for population losses by increasing the carrying-capacity of the steppe areas. The total area that needed management was evaluated at 500 hectares. The partial areas are non-florestal areas and oak areas without understory vegetation but which contain cereals and/or grassland. The breeding and wintering areas that were used as compensatory measures for the Little Bustard had the following composition:

  • 200 ha. of wheat
  • 250 ha. of stubble or fallow
  • 50a. of winter Leguminosae
  • 50 h of spring Leguminosae

The adequacy of the crops to sow was previously agreed between the landowners and the project coordinators, taking into account specific soil analyses.

In the case of the Crane, it was also not possible to fully reject the possibility of an exclusion effect caused by the power line and thus, having a precautionary approach in mind, habitat management-measures were also implemented. With the objective of improving the availability of feeding areas for this species, 100 ha. were sown with wheat in a 260 ha. fenced property, clearly improving the Crane’s feeding area. It is important to mention that the initial measure only included an area of 190 ha., and therefore this area increase went beyond the one initially proposed, with obvious gains for the Crane.

In these 260 ha., it is also possible to find two weirs that were managed with the objective to create new roosting areas for the Crane. This measure aims to ensure the reduction of crossings between the feeding and the roosting areas. These two weirs were managed in specific locations while taking the following into account:

  • minimum disturbance levels (absence of cattle and people during sunset and dawn)
  • absence of physical barriers
  • minimum distance to the power line of 1000 m
  • absence of dense vegetation nearby
  • absence of hunting activity

Monitoring process

In order to monitor the Little Bustard population movements, some Bustards were captured and marked with a Platform Terminal Transmitter, which uses either Doppler effect or GPS for localization. Although there is no quantitative data available yet, the marked birds reveal some consistent use of the intended areas. In the case of the Crane, the monitoring is done by direct observation.

During the last years, the implementation of these measures has been followed closely by REN and it has been observed that the new feeding areas are being used by both species. Regarding the weirs, although they are not yet being used as permanent roosting areas, occasional use has been observed.

These are some of the many initiatives that REN is carrying out to prevent possible major impacts on the environment that may result from its activities.

This project description was originally presented in the Global Compact International Yearbook 2010.

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