by Ann Scott, Alice Jarvis and Mike Scott
Namibia’s rich biodiversity includes 676 bird species – nearly two thirds of the those found in Southern Africa. Unfortunately many of these (9%) are increasingly under threat, including birds of prey. In February 2005, the Namibia Nature Foundation initiated a workshop where a comprehensive raptor action plan was developed.
In view of the rapidly increasing power-line network coverage across Namibia, the national power utility, NamPower, was approached due to a concern about the potential threat and unknown extent of mortality of large raptors on power lines, particularly as wildlife electrocutions often cause inconvenient outages, resulting in blackouts and high maintenance and repair costs.
NamPower addressed these issues in October 2008 by joining forces with the NNF in a strategic partnership. Initially advised by a powerline/wildlife conflict expert from South Africa, Chris van Rooyen, this groundbreaking initiative is managed by the NNF and endorsed and funded by the European Investment Bank.
The mission is, ultimately, to develop a comprehensive biodiversity information resource initially focusing on birds – the Environmental Information Service (EIS) www.the-eis.com – that will assist NamPower, regional electricity distributors (REDs) and other environmental and industry role players in Namibia to manage power-line impacts on the natural environment and vice versa.
Considerable progress has been made in achieving the project objectives, which are directly related to a dynamic action plan developed in consultation with stakeholders. The aim is to:
• promote awareness/communication about the risks that power-lines pose to birds, and birds to power-lines;
• report, monitor and manage power-line/bird interactions; and
• incorporate bird/wildlife mitigation into the planning of future power-line networks.
A countrywide series of workshops was undertaken to promote awareness, build capacity and gather information on wildlife/power-line incidents in Namibia. The target audience included NamPower and RED staff, landowners and managers (that is farmers, conser-vancies, mines, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and other institutions), and all other interested parties.
An incident-reporting database has been implemented to record bird/wildlife interactions with power lines (such as mortalities, roosts, nests, outages, and so on). Recently reported mortality incidents have involved various raptor species (including eagles, vultures and owls), bustards and flamingos, and even small-spotted genet and giraffe! There is growing concern about collision incidents involving Ludwig’s bustards (recently up-listed to Globally Threatened) and kori bustards in the south. Bustards (and some other birds) appear to have a ‘blind spot’ and may not be able to see power lines ahead of them, even if the lines are marked. A workshop was organised in October 2010 to discuss how this problem could be addressed.
Flamingos also a concern
Repeated incidents of collisions of lesser and greater flamingos on power lines crossing migration routes are also of concern. Flamingos often fly at night, in groups and sometime at low altitudes, and do not appear to be able to see standard mitigation devices on power lines. Furthermore, outages caused by nesting sociable and red-billed buffalo-weavers are a persistent and ongoing problem that results in much unnecessary expenditure to utility companies.
It is only through dedicated repeat surveys of power lines that the impact on bird populations may be determined in a scientific way. Pilot surveys and investigations have already been initiated. The present focus is to roll out a comprehensive series of dedicated surveys, especially in areas where problems are experienced or anticipated. The results will be used as a basis for planning and initiating mitigation measures in cooperation with power-line suppliers. In particular, problems associated with species flying at night (including flamingos) and bustards will be addressed by working closely with specialists and related initiatives. This includes a project to determine the flight paths of flamingos in Namibia with support from the Go Green Fund. Different types of mitigation measures will be used experimentally, and their effectiveness monitored – so stay tuned!
Exciting news is the recent approval of three student projects to investigate red-billed buffalo-weaver and sociable weaver nesting problems, and a project on bustards and power lines in Namibia.
Environmental Information Service (EIS) Namibia
Guideline documents on high-risk factors for birds and an environmental checklist have been compiled for use by planners of new power-line routes. However, one of the most important and exciting mitigation tools is the EIS, which feeds the findings/resources of the Partnership to power suppliers and EIA practitioners and other planners.
What is the EIS?
• a free, online information resource for Namibia (www.the-eis.com);
• a search and retrieval system for data (including databases, spatial data, literature, links to relevant websites and organisations, and other resources); and
• a repository for data and a mechanism for sharing data.
The EIS is well on its way to becoming the ‘one-stop-shop’ for public environmental information in Namibia, both through providing data directly and by providing links to other sources of information. Its users include government staff, NGO staff, researchers, consultants, EIA practitioners, students and many other people who are involved in environmental issues, within Namibia and further afield.
The EIS already includes a large volume and range of information. Because it is still under development, new information and new features are being added on an ongoing basis. It includes an upload option that allows anyone to submit data, and has a number of features that allow users to interact with it.
Why do we need an EIS?
Wherever possible, planning and decisions should be informed by up-to-date, reliable data and information. This is as true for environmental issues as it is for other areas. Much environmental information exists which is not easily accessible, such as literature, reports, GIS data and databases. Often finding out what information exists and then obtaining it is a long and time-consuming process requiring many phone calls and visits to offices. The EIS brings data and information together from a wide range of sources with a user-friendly search interface and makes it freely available for download.
Who can use the EIS?
Anyone with Internet access can use the EIS for free. There is no need to register or pay to search for or download information and data, although you are encouraged to register as an EIS user so that we can keep you informed when new data and features are added.
What is in the EIS?
The EIS incorporates a wide range of data types, including:
• literature: books, reports, journal articles, theses and more
• links to other useful websites and data sources
• environmental impact assessment materials
• environmental legislation
• links to environmental organisations
The EIS responds to its users’ needs. With the support of NamPower, a fully customised ‘Birds and Power Lines’ tool has been developed to support decision-making processes regarding the placement of power lines in relation to birds, especially those species that are impacted by, and have an impact on, power lines. This tool allows the online viewing of spatial (map) data so that the user can, for example, interactively view maps of power-line distribution and overlay hotspots of sensitive bird species distributions with maps of key factors such as topography and known incidents between birds and power lines. Used appropriately, this innovative tool can assist NamPower in planning new power lines so that the environmental impact will be minimised.
We wish to thank the staff of NamPower, Cenored, Nored and Erongo RED for their ongoing interest and support for the project; all the other interested organisations and individuals for their willing cooperation and contributions; and especially the NamPower/NNF working group for its invaluable support. The European Investment Bank is thanked for generous funding for the project.
*All project workshop reports and newsletters are available on www.nnf.org.na/nampowerproject.htm
This article appeared in the 2012 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.