The biodiversity action plan of the 100 MW Kipeto Wind energy project, in Kenya, includes attempts to offset potential impacts on birds through on-site mitigation measures, including the observer-led shut-down-on-demand (SDOD) of turbines.
The plant also has off-site raptor conservation programmes implemented through conservation partners, which are focused primarily on anti-poisoning community-awareness-raising and interventions to decrease human-wildlife conflict.
“During the advanced development stage of Kipeto’s construction, two vulture species were found less than 15 km from the site, namely the White Backed Vultures and Ruppell’s Vultures, species that had recently been up-listed to critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature,” explained Kipeto ornithologist Dominic Kimani, who leads a team of 31 bird monitors together with deputy ornithologist Mary Wanjiru Warui.
“Populations of both of these vulture species are facing rapid decline primarily owing to retaliatory poisoning, resulting from pastoralists lacing dead livestock carcasses with poisonous agricultural chemicals. The intention of this poisoning is to kill predators, such as lions and hyenas, as a result of human-wildlife conflict. Sadly, when vultures eat these carcasses, they also die, sometimes killing hundreds or even thousands of them,” Kimani said.
As reported in Kipeto plant developer and operator BTE Renewables’ 2021 Sustainable Development Report, Kipeto started with its on-site mitigation programme, including SDOD, when the project went into operation in July 2021.
The SDOD system is implemented through notification by a team of bird monitors to the wind farm’s on-site operations room where individual wind turbines are switched off when the priority species, which is any animal species that is of wildlife management concern, are in the vicinity, and switched on again once the bird has passed by.
"The data shows that the SDOD significantly rose in the last quarter of the year, brought on by a drought that resulted in an increase of wildlife and livestock carcasses, consequently attracting large numbers of vultures and other raptors to the area," BTE Renewables said.
Despite the relatively short period, the programme has reported a total of close to 170 shutdowns, the majority, or 92%, of which were for vultures, with a further 8% for raptors and other priority flocks of birds.
This has been implemented with 100% success for vultures, with one instance of collision with another priority species.
In this instance, the team undertook a root cause analysis and has since adapted the programme to ensure this is avoided in future, resulting in 100% successful implementation of SDOD since then, the team said.
“We have also had a two-man observer team monitoring bird activity daily, at eight vantage points, during raptor active hours between 09:00 to 18:00, since December 2019. This has yielded a significant set of data, which has provided a great deal of information for conservation organisations with whom we work,” added Kimani.
Meanwhile, the Kipeto Biodiversity Action Plan comprises close collaboration with the local community to protect the surrounding flora and fauna, and was developed in consultation with various nature and wildlife conservation groups.
In terms of off-site conservation measures, Kipeto and its implementation partners have made great progress, with activities including anti-poisoning campaign activities across approximately 8 000 km2 of southern Kenya in poisoning hotspot areas and strengthening of livestock protection through building predator-proof enclosures.
Conservation activities also include supporting rapid response to wildlife poisoning aimed at minimising the number of deaths of wildlife and birds of prey as a result of poisoning.
A bird holding centre has also been set up at Kipeto to act as a transit site for injured or poisoned birds that need to be stabilised before being transferred to certified rehabilitation sites for full recovery.
Further, the company is establishing conservation measures at the Olerai Conservancy, a site close to Kipeto that holds an important White-backed Vulture nesting colony and a good diversity of resident raptor species.
In February 2020, the team worked with the landowners to set up and resource a group of local scouts to patrol and protect the site. This intervention continues and is being transformed into a longer term focused plan.
Additionally, the same system has been implemented at BTE Renewables’ Excelsior Wind Energy Facility, South Africa, where the on-site mitigation programme to avoid losses also includes the industry-first implementation of the SDOD system for priority species.
"This system, which was piloted in August 2020 before being fully implemented, has to date resulted in no less than 350 shutdowns being successfully called for, with 100% success for Cape Vultures and 99% for other priority species. A number of off-site conservation initiatives have also been implemented with conservation organisations in South Africa," BTE Renewables said.