Abject failure of bird detection system to prevent another pelican wind turbine collision
On Wednesday, 31st August 2022, almost two years to the day after a previous such accident (https://bit.ly/3cBfOc4 , only in Greek), the ‘Management Unit of Prespes National Park and Protected Areas of Western Macedonia’ and the Society of the Protection of Prespa (SPP) were called to the scene of another great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) death, under turbine Nº 31 at the wind farm on Anthovouni, Mount Varnous.
The Forestry Management Unit of Florina took the unfortunate dead bird to a vet working for the NGO Arcturos in order to carry out an autopsy. The post-mortem findings concluded that the bird had lost its life after colliding with the blade of a wind turbine, which resulted in several fractures of the bird’s wings, ribs and beak, and the rupture of its thoracic air sacs and other organs.
Great white pelicans are birds with a wingspan of about 2.5 metres. They nest together with Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) in the wetlands of Lesser Prespa Lake and are an iconic species, protected at international level. Although the Prespa National Park hosts several rare species of animals and plants, as well as habitats, it was mainly because of its significant pelican colony that it was declared a protected area in the 1970s. The pelican involved in the accident had been ringed as a juvenile in 2017, at Lake Karla.
The wind farm on Mount Varnous, owned by Anemos Makedonias S.A., was built about 10 years ago, following a long dispute between the investors and the SPP with the support of its member environmental organisations, with the case eventually reaching the Council of State. At the time, the environmental organisations had pointed out the serious deficiencies in the Environmental Impact Assessments that had been issued, as well as in the ensuing environmental permit.
The wind farm project changed location several times, in an attempt by the investors to take it as far away as possible from the protected area of Prespa and from the pressure of the environmental organisations. It was finally built at the present site, 2,100m above sea level, in an area currently inside two Natura 2000 protected sites. The environmental terms of the project included the installation of a visual detection system, which was being used for the first time in Greece, as a measure to prevent large birds, and theoretically bats too, from colliding with wind turbine blades.
It was at this wind farm that the first recorded fatal incident in Greece involving great white pelicans took place in 2020, while the detection system was inactive. The system now operates on only two wind turbines at the southern end of the wind farm, where an environmental monitoring programme has observed most pelican crossings to take place. The objective failure of the system to prevent the great white pelican from hitting wind turbine Nº 31, which is located directly between the two cameras, raises serious concerns about the effectiveness of these automated collision avoidance systems, especially in areas through which birds frequently fly.
1st – Visual detection systems should not be considered sufficient to prevent the risk of collision in areas through which protected birds frequently pass.
2nd – The only effective approach to ensure the integrity of the Natura 2000 network is the correct and proper positioning of such projects. For the above reason, there is an urgent need, in general for Greece and in particular in the wider area of Prespa, to assess the cumulative effects on protected species and habitat types of all licensed, and under licensing process, wind energy developments, as well as establish exclusion zones for new installations. Relevant proposals will be submitted by the SPP in the near future, as part of the revision of the Special Spatial Plan for Renewable Energy Sources.
The SPP and its member organisations also reiterate the, unfortunately, timely request of environmental organisations, made in March 2020; to suspend the licensing of all category A projects, including wind energy developments, in all Natura 2000 network areas throughout the country, until the process of establishing protection measures in these areas is completed, in order to avoid irreversible interventions.
For wind farms that have already been installed, such as the one belonging to Anemos Makedonias S.A. on Mount Varnous, their operation needs to be very carefully adapted and their environmental terms modified. This is the only way to deal with such incidents and contain the, no longer rare, phenomenon of pelicans dying due to collisions with turbine blades. This has become imperative after the mass mortality of a large part of the Dalmatian pelican population in Prespa due to bird flu in early 2022. Now even the slightest avoidable loss must be prevented by any means possible.
Following the 2020 incident and the findings of the environmental inspectors that followed, the then Management Body for the Prespa National Park and the SPP submitted specific proposals to the relevant authorities for this particular installation. However, these have not yet been implemented. In particular, it has been proposed:
– To extend the bird flight detection system with the installation of radar technology for all wind turbines.
– Alternatively, after extending the existing system throughout the wind farm, to additionally install a visibility monitoring system to stop the operation of the wind turbines when visibility in the area is quite limited, throughout the day and during the months of February to September when pelicans cross the area continuously.
The choice of the measure to be imposed depends on various technical and other factors, such as the morphology of the terrain.
The Society for the Protection of Prespa and its member organisations reiterate these proposals and call for the measures to be implemented as soon as possible, before we count more losses.