Third International Scientific and Practical Conference “Eagles of the Palearctic: Study and Conservation”

Raptors Conservation. Suppl. 2. Proceedings of Conferences

“Birds and Power Lines” in Russia: the USSR Heritage, Modern Achievements, and Issues

Nikolenko E.G., Karyakin I.V. (Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network; Sibecocenter LLC, Novosibirsk, Russia)

Elvira Nikolenko
Igor Karyakin
Recommended citation: Nikolenko E.G., Karyakin I.V. “Birds and Power Lines” in Russia: the USSR Heritage, Modern Achievements, and Issues. – Raptors Conservation. 2023. S2: 376–381. DOI:10.19074/1814-8654-2023-2-376-381 URL:

We should begin to consider the issue of “Birds and power lines” in Russia with the state plan for the electrification of Russia, which was adopted in the USSR in 1920. The length of overhead power lines (PLs) had increased by several dozen times over ten years back then, but they were seated on wooden supports, which are pretty much safe for birds. The issue arose in the 1970s, with the adoption of the standard for PL on grounded reinforced concrete supports with pin insulators. Introduction of this standard led to the widespread bird mortality from electric shock.

Russia has not only inherited thousands of kilometers of bird-hazardous PLs from the USSR, but also decisions made on the need to use bird protection devices (BPDs). This was facilitated by the publication of “Birds on Wires” in the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper in 1980 (Peskov, 1980), after which research was carried out and the first solutions were proposed (Pererva, Blokhin, 1981; Zvonov, Krivonosov, 1981; Grazhdankin, Pererva, 1982). Since 1981, installation of prototypes began: BPDs of anti-perching and distracting type – “whiskers” and “perches” made of conductive materials, blank insulators (Selenergoproekt, 1985). However, these structures only increased mortality rates in birds, and therefore after four years “whiskers” and “perches” were banned from use (Main Scientific and Technical Directorate..., 1989), and in subsequent years power engineers dismantled them across most of Russia where they have been installed.

Therefore, the USSR recognized the problem, yet chose the wrong solution. It is important that plastic was not so widespread at the time, and cables were covered with rubber and were very expensive.

In the wake of Perestroika, the public environmental movement intensified in the USSR: ideological environmental activists came to the updated state system. Thanks to them, laws and other regulatory documents appeared in Russia, which made it possible to manage the situation and take measures to protect birds on the national scale. In 2003, the Ministry of Energy of the Russian Federation directly prohibits the use of PL supports with pin insulators in habitats of large birds in the Rules for the Construction of Electrical Installations. And, despite this, reconstructing many thousands of kilometers of PLs looked like a fantastic task, and the accepted requirements were ignored by organizations subordinate to the Ministry of Energy. Moreover, bird-hazardous structures were widely installed until the 2010s.

It was only because of many years of environmental activists’ activity, which included numerous complaints to the prosecutor’s office and dozens of lawsuits, the problem was noticed and recognized, both in state environmental protection agencies and among energy workers. In 2005–2008, serial production of plastic BPDs has been established by several companies in Russia.

In those years, it was important to convince power engineers to equip PLs with BPDs. The experience of the Volga region (see Bakka, Kiseleva, this collection) formed the basis of our work in Siberia, in the Altai-Sayan region, an enclave of many rare raptor species, and later – in Transbaikal. This was the most active period of the detailed research of the issue: depending on the geographical location, natural environment, state of different raptor populations. Several groups carried research simultaneously in different regions of Russia (Dwyer et al, 2023). Dozens of publications appeared: only in 2011–2012, 19 scientific articles were published showing the results of studying bird mortality on PLs in 13 administrative regions of the Russian Federation. Ornithological conferences were held to develop recommenda tions and adopt resolutions to address this issue. A well-drafted complaints to the prosecutor's office, accompanied by PL inspection and bird deaths reports, almost invariably led to prosecutor’s office issuing an order to eliminate violations.

In 2011, according to our recommendations, the “Interregional Distribution Grid Company of Siberia” (now a branch of the “Rosseti” PJSC) drew up a 10-year plan for equipping PLs with BPDs in seven regions of Siberia. Thanks to the recommendations, equipment was installed in the highest priority areas that are relevant for the conservation of rare bird species nesting groups. In general, in Siberia (Altai-Sayan region and Transbaikal) more than 10,000 km of PLs have been made safe for birds, and rare raptor mortality has decreased by 60–70% according to the most conservative estimates after this.

Some companies have immediately taken an environmentally responsible position. The mobile operator “MTS” completely reconstructed PLs in the Altai-Sayan region to make them safe within three years. And the PLs along the Russian border with Mongolia and China owned by the state were almost completely replaced with underground cables – and their length is several thousand kilometers!

However, as the demand for BPDs have risen, manufacturers with cheap and completely ineffective devices appeared. Thus, the product range included anti-perching BPDs – plastic spikes that broke under eagle talons, etc.

This issue was solved in 2015, when “Rosseti” PJSC adopted a standard developed by the working group of Nonprofit Partnership “Elektrosetizolyatsiya” under pressure by activists: STO 34.01- 2.2-010-2015 “Bird protection devices for overhead power lines and open substations’ switchgears. General technical requirements” (as amended in 2017: STO 34.01-2.2-025-2017 “Bird protection devices for overhead power lines and open substations’ switchgears”), which set strict requirements for the quality of plastic and structure efficiency. Similar standards have been adopted by other large industrial companies.

Since 2014, state began to pressure environmental activists in Russia: writing letters to the prosecutor’s office has become dangerous. However, last 25 years of efforts have made the process more or less autonomous: regulations dictate the need for power engineers to use BPDs, forming a permanent state demand, several BPDs manufacturing companies create healthy competition for each other. This gives hope for the use of BPDs, self-insulated wire (SIW), poles without traverses and composite traverses on PLs, as well as underground cable lines, to become the norm.

Key issues that are relevant today:

1. The use of high-quality plastic, which would have a long service life (no less than 10 years) in the conditions of Siberia, where daily temperature changes reach 30 degrees, and also would be resilient to pressure of eagle talons that crumble caps made of “weak” plastic in one season;
2. It is necessary to introduce new and/ or less common technologies in PL structures: composite traverses, traversless supports made of treated wood, which last several times longer than untreated wood, suspended insulators with umbrellas on traverses with a distance between currentcarrying and grounded elements of one meter or more;
3. BPDs are a temporary measure, widespread transition to SIW and underground cable is needed;
4. Design companies still offer birdhazardous designs with pin insulators to power engineers, firstly, because regulatory authorities (for example, Rostekhnadzor) are not interested in solving the problem, and secondly, thanks to corruption, favorable conditions are created for the implementation of dangerous and lowquality projects, including those that violate Russian legislation.

Eagle electrocuted on the bird-hazardous power line support not equipped with bird protection devices. Photo by I. Karyakin.