High-flying life. Irina Samusenko is one of the most renowned ornithologists in Belarus. At present she is a PhD in biology, head of the Laboratory of Ornithology at the Scientific and Practical Centre for Bioresources of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, National Coordinator for White Stork and Cormorant international censuses, initiator and author of studies on the impact of wind turbines on the avifauna and bats.
The career of a young scientist began in the mid-80s, when young Irina entered the Faculty of Biology of the Belarusian State University.
“I didn’t have any other options,” laughs Irina. – “The love for all living creatures runs in our family. My father, a multi-discipline zoologist, was teaching at the university, and my mother was a biology teacher at school. All my childhood, as far back as I can remember, there were always animals in the house and all our conversations were about them. So I was meant to be a zoologist. When it was time to decide on a topic for the PhD project, I realized I did not want to work in an office, to deal with a microscope and test tubes, as a young woman I wanted to experience “the romance of field works”. And is there anything more romantic than studying birds? My heart still skips a beat as the flocks of birds shoot upwards to the sky.
One of ornithologist’s main tasks is to track the state and the number of local bird populations. What’s amazing is that the birds are tracked by their calls and songs. In addition to the good hearing, a scientist also needs strong memory, as you have to keep in mind several hundred birdsongs and identify them immediately.
But besides that, ornithologists also deal with the problems of birds. While technological progress is gaining momentum, birds as well as other species of flora and fauna are facing new environmental conditions and threats.
“Today, due to the lack of unified approaches to monitoring and evaluating the effect of wind farms on fauna, there are two diametrically opposite points of view,” continues Irina Samusenko. Some experts claim that wind turbines are absolutely safe for birds, while others warn that wind turbines kill crowds of birds. But unambiguous conclusions cannot be drawn from the researchers conducted in other countries, especially under constantly changing conditions. For example, on the Internet you can find opinions that are based on translated studies of US scientists. But we have completely different landscape and weather conditions, different types of birds and their migration routes, different powers and designs of wind turbines. To make a complete and reliable analysis of the problem, more scientific data is required. And thanks to the project, we can receive it.
One of the significant events preceding the start of the research was a study visit to Ukraine, which was organized by the international technical assistance project “Removing Barriers to the Wind Power Development in Belarus”. Specialists from various ministries, departments and NGOs of our country visited the Tokmak Solar Energy solar power plant and the Botievo Wind Power Plant, the largest wind farm in Ukraine with an installed capacity of 200 MW.
“It was a great opportunity to share ideas with the colleagues and see the work of such a large wind farm,” Irina notes. “We had an on-site trip to the turbines and a small seminar in the “visit center”. In addition to various important issues related to the renewable energy development , a separate segment of the meeting was devoted to local peculiarities of the wind farms EIA procedure in order to take into account the impact of the wind farms on the avifauna of the territory. Ornithologists, conducting long-term monitoring of avifauna on the territory of the wind farm, presented the findings of their research on the insignificant effect of wind turbines on birds.”
Such research is relevant for our country, too, especially given the lack of factual information about the possible environmental impact of operating wind farms.
“Now, as part of the project, we are conducting an in-depth study of the assessment of the impact of wind farms on birds and bats,” says Irina Samusenko. “The purpose of our work, firstly, is to assess the state and level of impact on birds and bats at the wind farm model sites at the stage of their functioning, which has not been done before in Belarus. Secondly, it is planned to develop approaches for organizing further monitoring based on tracking methods of occurring changes that are adapted to our conditions, and proposals to minimize the impact of wind farms on key fauna groups, taking into account bilateral benefits for the development of green energy production in the country and the environmental aspect. All this will undoubtedly fill the knowledge gaps about the environmental impact of wind turbines and will contribute to the development of wind energy in our country.
Photo from the personal archive of I.E. Samusenko