A senior researcher has been appointed by nongovernmental conservation organisation BirdLife South Africa to monitor and report on the impact of renewable-energy generation on bird life, specifically regarding wind farms, says BirdLife South Africa conservation manager Dr Hanneline Smit.
Samantha Ralston holds a master’s degree in conservation biology, has seven years’ experience reviewing environmental-impact assessments and joined BirdLife South Africa as birds and renewable energy manager on August 1.
Her position will have the overarching task of reducing the impact of renewable-energy developments on birds and their habitats and is sponsored by finan- cial institution Investec Capital Markets, says Smit.
“While positive steps are being taken to achieve a sustainable energy mix for South Africa, little is understood of the broader environmental impact of certain renewable energies. Working with BirdLife South Africa gives us the opportunity to invest in the capacity to produce quality data to inform future decisions,” explains Investec Resource & Infrastructure Finance head Michael Meeser.
The key goals of the partnership between Investec and BirdLife South Africa are ensuring that minimum standards can be applied to local and, potentially, international green-energy initiatives, providing a responsible framework for the development of these projects and aligning the costs of environmental management.
“Although supportive of greener energy production, BirdLife South Africa is cognisant of the possible negative impacts of wind-energy facilities on avifauna and believes it is important that decisions are taken prior to construction to reduce the impact on birds,” says Smit.
The appointment of a dedicated individual to research and monitor the impact of wind-farm projects is a first for the country, she adds.
“In this role, Ralston will endeavour to make all developers and avifaunal specialists comply with the non-negotiable aspects of monitoring. She must also keep records of the cumulative impacts of developments on bird populations, especially where there are several developments in an area.
“Ralston must manage all queries regarding the Avian Wind Sensitivity Map, a tool developed by BirdLife South Africa and its partners, and update the map as new information becomes available.