'It's a massacre!' On July 2, Diego Escalona filmed dozens of dead birds at the foot of a transparent noise barrier built next to a road in Ojén, Spain. Since then, his video has been viewed more than a million times.
Transparent sound barriers -- tall glass walls that run alongside highways to protect neighbours from noise pollution -- can be fatal for unsuspecting birds. About a month ago, a company set up a transparent noise barrier alongside one of the main roads crossing the Andalusian village of Ojén.
Some of the locals have started to worry about the impact this installation might have on birds native to the area, especially as Ojén, which is nestled between the sea and mountains, is located within the Sierra de las Nieves Biosphere Reserve, recognized by UNESCO.
After hearing rumours that there was a problem with the noise barrier, Diego Escalona, an avid cyclist who lives in the area, went to see for himself. On the morning of July 2, he was horrified to see dozens of dead birds at the foot of the wall. The video he made of the gruesome scene was posted on the Marbella se queja Facebook page, which is used as a forum for discussion and swapping news amongst residents of Marbella, a town located to the south of Ojén. The video shows dozens of lifeless birds, including blackbirds, robins and bluejays.
“It’s absolutely shameful, look at these poor birds [...] Look at this massacre, what barbarism!”, Escalona says in the video, while doing his best to gather up the bird carcasses.
In less than a week, the video garnered more than a million views and was shared more than 54,000 times.
"It’s hard to count the exact number of birds that have died since this glass wall was built”
The FRANCE 24 team contacted Escalona.
One evening, I spoke to a man who often drives down the road in question. He said that lots of birds had been dying since these noise barriers had been installed. So, around 11am the next day, I went to see for myself. I took my bike, which made it easier to get to the foot of the wall. It would be dangerous for a car to stop in the middle of the road, and there isn’t really pedestrian access.
People told me that road workers come and clean up the sides of the road and remove the dead birds. If that's really what happens, then it is hard to estimate the number of birds that have died since this glass wall was installed. On the day when I went, there were about 30 dead birds.
Shortly after this video was published, a conservation team from the Ojén eco-reserve said that they had already spoken to local authorities about the situation.
"We have already highlighted this issue and sent photos of the dead birds to the company [that had the contract to build this wall] so that they could take urgent action,” Ojén’s eco-reserve said.
As the scandal grew in size, local authorities were quick to respond. On Monday, officials from the Andalusian environmental agency, AMA Andalucía, said that, after seeing the video, they went to the site to write up a report on the situation.
On the morning of July 3, the Ojén city hall wrote on Facebook that they had made changes to the noise barrier to make it more visible to passing birds. They said this was a way to address the issue before a more permanent solution was found.
A bit later on in the afternoon, authorities published a second photo showing the sound barrier covered with patterns.
“Here is the solution put in place today by the developer in charge of this construction. This image shows our first test on one of the main crossing points,” said city hall, while adding that designs would be added all along the walls.
"When I learned that this wall was being built about a month ago, I contacted the company to make sure that they took steps to protect birds," said the mayor in a statement.
"I hope that this will serve as an example to other towns”
Antoño Calvo Aguilar, who heads up the Ojén eco-reserve, says that he is surprised that city officials and the company that set up the sound barrier didn’t think about this issue earlier.
“There are lots of guides that explain how to avoid these kind of errors and advise against using transparent walls, especially in nature reserves,” he told the FRANCE 24 Observers.
Escalona hopes that this will encourage other cities to take a good, hard look at the impact of their installations on the environment.
I am going to visit the sound barrier frequently to monitor the situation. If other birds keep hitting the wall, then they are going to need to remove it.
Anyway, I am glad that my video made this issue go viral, as it happens elsewhere too. I hope that it will encourage other citizens to document the negative impacts that this kind of wall can have and that this will serve as an example to other towns, especially those in protected areas.