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How to protect birds in the city - a conversation with Paweł Wołejsza and Aleksandra Szurlej-Kielanska

03 of March '22

For several years, ornithologists have been drawing attention to the decline in bird populations. Are architecture and urban planning contributing to their higher mortality ? How can we change this?

Architect Paweł Wołejsza and ornithologist Aleksandra Szurlej-Kielańskawill talk about the problem of bird extinction, the contribution of architecture and urban planning to these processes, and which solutions are important in solving this problem.

Wiktor Bochenek: In Poland, as well as in other countries, from time to time we can encounter scare articles about the extinction of birds. Often architecture and urbanization are taken as one of the enemies of birds. In what ways are we harming them?

Aleksandra Szurlej-Kielanska: Let's start with the fact that many bird species are urbanized. When cities were created and further developed, birds adapted to new conditions: in place of disappearing habitats, buildings and accompanying infrastructure appeared. Currently, habitats for many species of birds in cities are all cracks and vents in buildings, especially in blocks of flats made of so-called "big plates. During modernization and renovation, we destroy such habitats Birds, but also bats, nest precisely in many such places where we do not expect them.

The second issue is the "glass buildings" that have become fashionable in recent years (buildings, patios, conservatories, bus shelters, landscaping elements and noise barriers), which create collision risks for birds. Not noticing transparent obstacles, they fly into them and in most cases end up dead on the spot or a few hours after such a collision.

Pawel Wolejsza: Architecture harms birds in multiple ways. First, designed buildings are not checked for aerodynamics or light reflection. Secondly, the materials - large sheets of glass are designed without deep thought. Birds see the reflected sky or emanating light, see the far horizon and collide with office buildings. This is the biggest problem on bird migration routes, along coasts, watercourses or wooded areas. This can be seen in Warsaw, the Tri-City area or New York City. Research by the American Bird Conservancy indicates that the population of individual species has dropped significantly as a result of this phenomenon. In large cities, birds are cleaned up in the morning and the subject is reluctantly mentioned.

Aleksandra Szurlej-Kielańska

Aleksandra Szurlej-Kielańska

© Aleksandra Szurlej-Kielańska

Wiktor Bochenek: Is architecture that harmful?

Aleksandra Szurlej-Kielańska: The impact of architecture is not dominant among all anthropogenic causes. It's also wind farms, power lines or traffic. In the United States alone, it is estimated that one billion birds are killed annually by collisions with buildings. In Germany, it is one hundred and fifteen million. We know that this problem exists in Poland, but we do not have adequate, more accurate data to estimate its scale. The problem becomes apparent with the drastic declines in the sparrow population that we see as a result of habitat loss due to the retrofitting of many buildings.

Wiktor Bochenek: What architectural solutions are really dangerous and how can we begin to avoid them?

Pawel Wolejsza: This can be remedied quite simply with basic design decisions. The regulation of the full to glass plane itself is important - it creates the illusion of a visual barrier visible to birds. Such solutions are special blinds or appropriate films or markers applied to the glass, which are already visible to birds. Horizontal stripes, virtually invisible to humans, reduce the risk of collision almost to zero. Shapes of birds of prey pasted on acoustic panels along roads, known from probably every Polish city - do not do the job.

Creating massing and view openings is also important. Windows across or glass corners are harmful to birds, which cannot see these architectural barriers. The use of glazed corners is a tempting solution, because it gives the impression of being modern, but it generates many problems, from ecology to beam construction. It is worth using the previously mentioned solutions or brise-soleils, barriers often invisible to people but important for birds. In Poland, these solutions are not yet popular, but you can see their potential.

Roads and highways with enclosed acoustic tunnels are also a threat to birds, as they often run through previously undeveloped areas. The place where the green center meets the city is the most vulnerable area to bird collisions.

Paweł Wołejsza

Pawel Wolejsza

Photo by Agnieszka Lenard © Pawel Wolejsza

Aleksandra Szurlej-Kielańska: First of all, when embarking on modernization and renovation works, it is worth conducting an ornithological inventory, as a result of which it is possible to determine whether there are birds nesting in the building or potential nesting habitats. The legislator has stipulated in the Law on Nature Protection and the Ordinance on the Protection of Species of Animals: the prohibition of intentionally disturbing, destroying habitats and killing birds - which translates into the possibility of restricting construction work during the breeding season. The timing of repair or demolition work should be adapted to the bird occupancy of a particular building. If the inventory finds a nest with eggs or chicks, work should be halted. The legislator has provided for nature compensation - for each habitat destroyed, a new one should be created.

The measures to be taken to protect birds, in the case of planned renovation or demolition works, are described in an accessible way in the guide Green Investment Potential. Nature-friendly facilities(SEE HERE).

In turn, selected architectural and design solutions for minimizing bird collisions with glazing can be found in the guide: Protecting Birds from Collisions with Glass Buildings. Practical and effective solutions(SEE HERE).

Wiktor Bochenek: Architecture is one element, the other is urban planning - it is accepted to say that spatial chaos is harmful, does this also apply to birds?

Pawel Wolejsza: This is a difficult question, in my opinion, the city should densify and increase green space with a high level of biodiversity. In a study comparing compact and dispersed development, prepared for the Polish Association of Real Estate Developers, I showed that one residential tower in the center of the city is the area of several hundred single-family houses, which would take up an area equal to two parks the size of Pole Mokotowskie in Warsaw. This is certainly more harmful to non-urbanized nature. It is understandable that someone wants to live preferably in the woods - but if it has to happen, it is worth designing it in such a way that it fits in with nature, and the building is integrated with nature, so that it does not endanger birds, but also other living organisms.

Aleksandra Szurlej-Kielańska: I am also of the task that the whole urban design should take into account a large area of green areas, including natural and semi-natural ones, not only those designed by man. Good practices indicate that the creation of new, replacement nesting sites for birds should be accompanied by leaving or creating greenery that provides a feeding base and resting places for birds.

Wiktor Bochenek: Thank you for the interview!

Interviewed by Wiktor Bochenek

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