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'Sensitivity map' aims to protect birds from wind farms

The Endangered Wildlife Trust is compiling a “sensitivity map” to help those planning wind farms ensure their construction does not unnecessarily endanger birds, the nongovernmental organisation said yesterday.

Wind farm project applications had “proliferated” in SA since 2009.

Howeever, the government needed to be careful of where wind farms were placed so as not to endanger SA’s birds, said trust CEO Yolan Friedman.

The World Bank last year granted Eskom a $3,75bn loan, $260m of which was set aside for wind and solar projects.

The trust’s wildlife and energy programme manager, Jon Smallie, said international research showed that the negative effect of wind energy on birds was very site specific.

In addition to birds’ advantageous ecological effects such as seed dispersal, the Department of Trade and Industry’s 2010 avitourism report shows birding adds an estimated R1bn to R1,9bn to SA’s gross domestic product each year.

SA is home to 45 globally threatened bird species and about 35% of Africa’s bird species are seen in Southern Africa, according to the report. Africa has 23% of the world’s about 9000 bird species.

The trust is planning to release its map, which will highlight sites where wind farms could be erected with least effect on birds, Mr Smallie said at an event at which Ms Friedman released the trust’s 2010 conservation report.

The trust has a favourable view of wind energy as a source of renewable power, but siting wind farms needed to be careful of endangering SA’s birds.

Last year was a tough one for the trust as the Soccer World Cup detracted sponsorship from the trust at the same time as the global recession hit corporates’ social investment budgets, Ms Friedman said. The trust had, however, stayed in the black.

The trust expanded its projects, produced a “toolkit” on SA’s “very confusing and messy” legislation on mining’s environmental impact and campaigned against rhino poaching, she said.

The trust would expand its work on helping SA’s law agencies protect the country’s ecosystems, Ms Friedman said.