On a recent trip to Village Nurseries in Huntington Beach, CA, my first trip to this garden center, I was surprised by its location; the nursery was located in a corridor of High Voltage Power Lines. When I inquired about it, I learned that many nurseries and Christmas tree farms rent land from the power companies in the High Voltage Power Corridors in order to save money. Apparently, the plants do not show any ill effects, plus they help green up the corridors, as well.
With wildlife, however, it is a different story. Scientists have long observed that wildlife avoid High Voltage Power Cables, but they were not sure why. They assumed wildlife avoided the High Voltage Power Corridors because of a lack of safe cover from predators, from the land being cleared and trees cut for construction of the power lines. The concern was (and still is) that these power line areas were causing wildlife habitat fragmentation.
Now, however, a recent study by a team of researchers – from the University College London (UCL), Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, UIT The Arctic University of Norway, and the University of Oslo in Norway – has come to a new conclusion: that UV light is the culprit responsible for scaring wildlife. Their findings were published in the journal, Conservation Biology.
High Voltage Power lines are constantly emitting UV light in disturbing coronal bursts that the human eye cannot see. (These are not the regular power lines you would see around your neighborhood but high voltage ones.) Wild animals see overhead cables as glowing, flashing bands of light across the countryside. It is hard for us to imagine what this might look like, as human eyes do not see UV light.
According to Professor Glen Jeffery of the University College London, “High-voltage power cables cause a build-up of ionised gas at certain points on the overhead lines which results in an overall UV glow with occasional, random flashes of UV light as the ionised gases or corona suddenly dissipate. Power companies try to minimise the phenomenon because it causes power leakage, but not to the extent of eliminating them altogether.”
While it was already known that birds, fish, and some reptiles and amphibians were sensitive to UV light, another recent study found that many mammals, including dogs and cats, can see some level of UV light.
Reindeer are especially sensitive. Their eyes are adapted to see in arctic conditions. While being able to see UV light on dark winter days is helpful, (the ability to see UV light helps them find lichen and see the urine markings of predators more clearly), seeing bands of flashing light extending across the horizon is anything but. The intense lights scare off the herd that would otherwise travel to the areas beyond the High Voltage Power Corridor.
Many other animals all over the world, from birds in the Arctic to elephants in Africa, are also able to see the disturbing ultraviolet radiation. Animals in widely different habitats are all avoiding overhead power lines that were previously considered to be invisible to wildlife, making this a universal problem.
Dr. Nicolas Tyler, an ecologist at UIT The Arctic University of Norway and another member of the research team, said, “The discovery has global significance. The loss and fragmentation of habitat by infrastructure is the principle global threat to biodiversity – it is absolutely major. Roads have always got particular attention but this will push power lines right up the list of offenders.” The avoidance of power lines can interfere with migration routes, breeding grounds and grazing for both animals and birds.
It is hoped that this discovery will at least help with future decisions about where power lines are placed. In Norway, for example, a plan is currently in the works for building a 186 mile power line, and researchers hope their work will encourage power companies to work in concert with reindeer herders on its placement.
Do you have High Voltage Power Lines in your neighborhood? Have you observed any effect on the activities of your local wildlife as a result?
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