Investec and BirdLife South Africa partner in pursuit of responsible renewable energy development

Posted on the 23rd August 2012

(This article first appeared in the BirdLife South Africa e-newsletter of August 2012. - Ed.)

BirdLife South Africa supports renewable energy production, but renewable energy facilities, particularly wind farms, can have unintended negative impacts on birds. BirdLife South Africa is therefore pleased to announce the appointment of a Birds and Renewable Energy Manager, sponsored by Investec Capital Markets. This position will focus on minimising the impact of renewable energy developments on birds and their habitats. BirdLife South Africa’s Conservation Division will continue to pro-actively assist the industry and other stakeholders in decision-making.

Investec Capital Markets is committed to ensure that appropriate preventative measures are in place to protect threatened (red-listed) and high risk bird species and therefore strives to finance renewable energy projects which are not only clean, but biodiversity friendly.

The successful candidate, Samantha Ralston, has a master’s degree in conservation biology and has experience working with both NGOs and government. In her previous position at CapeNature, her main objective was to reduce the loss of priority habitat through reviewing environmental impact assessments. It was in this role that she became aware of the challenge that renewable energy projects could pose to avifauna if the industry and other stakeholders are not sufficiently guided.

While new to the world of birds and birding, Sam is passionate about conservation and sustainable development.

She is particularly interested in balancing the needs of people and the environment.

As a pragmatist, a priority for her will be to ensure that decisions are based on the best available science. To this end, she will be actively engaging with avifaunal specialists, environmental consultants, government and industry. Critically, she will strive to ensure that all impact assessments and monitoring of avifauna for renewable energy projects complies with best practice and minimum standards. It is vital that sufficient information is made available for review before construction if impacts on birds are to be minimised through a revised turbine layout and other forms of mitigation.

As renewable energy is relatively new to the region, there is some uncertainty about how local avifauna will respond. Through housing and reviewing all pre- and post-construction avifaunal monitoring reports, BirdLife will help ensure that quality data are produced and that this is used to inform both project-specific mitigation, as well as future decisions.

BirdLife South Africa, in partnership with the Endangered Wildlife Trust has developed an Avian Wind Sensitivity Map, and Sam will be supporting developers and environmental consultants to use this valuable resource.

As Birds and Renewable Energy Manager, Sam hopes to realise her vision of a renewable energy sector that helps mitigate climate change and its associated long-term impacts on nature, without overlooking the immediate threats to birdlife that can be associated with such developments.

Sam Ralston can be reached at or 083 673 3948.

Hanneline Smit, Conservation Manager/Oppenheimer Fellow of Conservation,



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