MARKING POWER LINES IN BHUTAN FOR BLACK-NECKED CRANES

Ndzalama Chauke, Junior Field Officer, EWT Wildlife and Energy Programme
ndzalamac@ewt.org.za

The EWT’s Wildlife and Energy Programme was recently able to assist the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), an NGO in Bhutan, to mark power lines to reduce potential crane collisions. Lourens Leeuwner, the Wildlife and Energy Programme manager, held a webinar with members of the RSPN, explaining a solution used in South Africa, as part of our strategic partnership with local power utility, Eskom. He also provided the supplier’s details and advised on how to fit the product. The Eskom/EWT partnership has been testing the effectiveness and durability of bird flight diverters, including the Eberhardt Martin Bird Flapper, for over nine years in the Karoo. Results have indicated that the device will reduce collision incidents of crane species by 90%.

The team at RSPN elaborates:

“We are writing to update you on exciting new project developments. We suspect much of your work amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic has changed.  The current circumstances have barred most of our work as well, especially given our focus on direct community engagement. However, since the situation in Bhutan is relatively stable, we have been able to carry out field work that does not require large gatherings. One important activity has been the marking of key power lines to reduce potential crane collisions. This is the first time such an endeavour has been attempted in Bhutan, and the initial pilot phase looks very promising.

The proactive burying of power lines in Phobjikha, which hosts the largest wintering population in the country (approximately 490 in the winter of 2019-2020), has proved beneficial for cranes as well as the local communities. However, in other wintering habitats, overland power line systems were already laid out. In recent years, we have received a few reports of crane collisions, especially in the central winter habitat of Bumthang. While this habitat only receives a few wintering Black-necked Cranes (5 – 11) annually, it represents how human pressure and development can displace wildlife from historically important areas. According to community elders, Bumthang used to receive more than 100 Black-necked Cranes in the past.

To ensure a safe environment for the cranes in this area, we have been working with the local community and government stakeholders to consider innovative approaches to conservation and management. For the installation of flight diverters in Tang and Chumey (Bumthang), where power lines are in close proximity to Black-necked Crane roosting sites, we partnered with the Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC), the responsible agency for power line distribution in the country. As recommended by experts from South Africa/ICF, we used Eberhardt Martin Bird Flappers.

We installed 47 diverters in total, with two alternating colours (Yellow and Black with glowing yellow stickers in the centre) at 2.5 m apart. A hot stick was used to install the diverters with help from RSPN and BPC staff. For lines higher than 45-50 feet, the hot stick was not rigid enough to hang the diverters in the right position. For the higher tensioned power lines, a crane would be needed for installation, though the cost for operation would increase.

These efforts represent the pilot phase of a long-term project to safeguard Bhutan’s wintering crane populations by mitigating the impact of energy development and distribution in-country. Our team intends to keep a close eye on these sites in the fall to assess the efficacy of these early efforts. RSPN and BPC are presently discussing plans to scale up these initial efforts in additional habitats. We are also considering the use of this technology in the riverine territories of the critically endangered White-bellied Heron, a species that is arguably more vulnerable to power line collisions and the impacts of energy development.”