What’s Scaring the Wildlife?


High Voltage Power Lines Span the Countryside, photo from Kid's Brittanica

High Voltage Power Lines Span the Countryside, photo from Kid’s Brittanica

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.

Deer Running Through Meadow, Photo by Kathy Vilim

Deer Running Through Meadow, Photo by Kathy Vilim

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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  1. says

    This is really interesting, and it is important information for all wildlife advocates to know. It makes me wonder what other unperceived (by us) phenomena we are inflicting on other sentient beings. Thank you for posting this.

    • says

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Watching the video was scary for me. I’d certainly avoid a corridor of these things! It is distressing how much wildlife habitat gets disrupted by human activities. We need more safe wildlife corridors. In So Cal, conservationists are working to connect parkland for the wildlife to move about more freely.

  2. denise meehan says

    We had a large utility pole installed on the right-of-way that exists on the Eastern corner of our property.
    The pole provides service to the three new homes adjacent to us. Not our home. There is a huge transformer on top, but all of the lines were buried on our property line.

    We tried to fight our utility but eventually, ran out of money to mount our defense. We pleaded every where, but our home was “the little red house,” compared to the new builds and those took precedence. Never mind that this house has been in my family for 60 years, the tax revenues on the new homes were much more promising.

    So, I have a certified wildlife habitat here, through NWF, and a NABA butterfly habitat. But I did not really see much in the way of butterflies last year.
    I have what I hope is an American Wisteria creeping up the pole. It was a rescue from a building site, and has yet to bloom so I cannot id it properly. My goal is to simply have it cover the pole so I do not see it from our backyard. (Our property is small, .25 of an acre, the adjoining property is 2 acres.)

    I did take an EMF meter out to it last year. I am concerned because the buried lines run eight feet from my bedroom. My younger son’s bedroom upstairs is within 15 feet of the transformer. I got high readings. My health has gotten progressively worse over the years it has been here, I have an auto immune disease yet to be clearly defined. My son graduated from college, which was out of state, and did not live here fulltime until May of 2012. Since then, his health has taken a bad turn too. He was diagnosed with a hereditary condition of iron overload disease, which has left iron deposits in his pituitary among other organs. I just cannot get out of my mind that the EMF”s from this unecessary technology (there was a perfectly good pole on the property, the farthest distance from our house, but the developer chose to “upgrade”) has speeded up the disease process in my son. It is often not detected until a person is in their 40’s, though it is a common hereditary disease, especially among those of Northern Euroopean origin. So I cannot say that the utility caused his illness. But even a non-scientist has to admit iron and EMF’s, or magnets, are going to connect, especially at the shortest distance.

    So, for now, I have attempted to put orgone pyramids in grids inside our bedrooms. I have already purchased copper “flowers” for decorative and protective use in front of my room. I just need to install them.

    If this is progress, well, it is a horrible way to live. Any one with recommendations please post here.
    I know that the orgone idea makes me sound like a bit of a wingnut, but I have come to place my trust in sciences not under the thumb of big business. Remember Monopoly ? The best plan always involved buying utilities. I sure wish I had, or that I had had a say in any of what happened here.

    It has not destroyed the quality of my life, but it has come close to the tipping point now and again.
    I can relate to the animals.

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