Even if we humans can find some escape, some respite, from radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR), wildlife cannot.
We can retreat into our ‘Faraday caves’ and hide behind our special curtains, but outside it is different. We cannot protect the birds and the bees. Manmade telecom radiation threatens to be the real extinction event.
The 2018 ‘Horizon Scan of Emerging Issues for Global Conservation and Biological Diversity’, written by colleagues of Prof Bill Sutherland (Cambridge University & the British Ecological Society), stated:
“Understanding the potential effects of non-ionising radiation on wildlife could become more relevant with the expected adoption of new mobile network technology (5G) … Radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMFs), a form of non-ionising radiation, which may change biological processes such as neurotransmitter functions, cellular metabolism, and gene and protein expression in certain types of cells, even at low intensities.” [Sutherland et.al. (2018) Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Vol.33,No.1.link]
Also in 2018 Buglife, the UK charity dedicated to protecting insects, produced a report with the EU EKLIPSE mechanism that reviewed many recent scientific papers (Buglife link). The review found evidence that electromagnetic wireless signals, including from power lines, radar, TV/radio broadcasting, Wi-Fi and 2G/3G/4G communications all pose a credible threat to wildlife. 5G threatens to further exacerbate existing threats.
There are even patents filed in the USA for using microwaves as an insecticide. One example is this patent filed in 1997 for a ‘Microwave radiation insect exterminator‘. This ‘non-toxic extermination device is disclosed herein having an RF radiation generator providing microwave, high frequency waves for penetration through solid obstacles such as walls, floors, partitions or the like. The generated waves are characterized as being effective to cause insect internal molecular friction to generate deadly heat’. Proof of sorts that microwaves kill insects.
Apart from humans deliberately using microwaves to kill, there are 3 key unintentional harms facing wildlife as a result of RF-EMR :-
- cellular damage at the level of DNA – which affects fertility
- relationship with the Earth’s magnetic field – which affects orientation; and
- loss of habitat
1. DNA damage
What all the studies suggest is that it is the polarised variable pulsing of the RF-EMR signal, regardless of frequency, that all living organisms cannot cope with – birds, bees, trees, people. It is not a smooth sine wave. A March 2019 paper explains why mobile phones are more damaging, even for a short durations, than a 50 Hz alternating magnetic field (such as created by a power line). Based on ‘real life’ scenarios, this research found that ‘the crucial parameter for the intense bioactivity seems to be the extreme variability of the polarized [mobile phone] signals, mainly due to the large unpredictable intensity changes’.
If we look at how this might affect honeybees, for example, it is possible that exposure to RF-EMR is responsible for the unprecedented scale of the dramatic instances of Bee Colony Collapse Disorder which first started to appear, particularly in the USA, from 2006. According the US Environmental Protection Agency, ‘during the winter of 2006-2007, some beekeepers began to report unusually high losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. As many as 50 percent of all affected colonies demonstrated symptoms inconsistent with any known causes of honey bee death:
- Sudden loss of a colony’s worker bee population with very few dead bees found near the colony.
- The queen and brood (young) remained, and the colonies had relatively abundant honey and pollen reserves.
But hives cannot sustain themselves without worker bees and would eventually die. This combination of events resulting in the loss of a bee colony has been called Colony Collapse Disorder’ (USEPA).
Undoubtedly, pesticides such as neonicotinoids are harmful to bees, and should be banned. But, as this 2017 article in Science shows, chemicals harm bees in other ways. They tend to damage the hive as a whole, including the queen, slowly over time. In bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the queen survives and even healthy bees effectively vanish, abandoning their hives, their queen and sources of food – with no obvious explanation – especially as neonicotinoids are not always found in cases linked to bee CCD.
If we look at experiments in more detail involving bees, this 2010 paper, written by scientists based in India and which was included in the 2018 Eklipse review, explains how honeybee behaviour and biology is affected by electrosmog. They also mention that these insects have magnetite in their bodies which helps them in navigation. The scientists mention that that the reports of sudden disappearance of bee populations from honeybee colonies [ie bee colony collapse disorder] are for reasons which are still not clear. They compared the performance of honeybees in cellphone radiation exposed and unexposed colonies. A significant (p < 0.05) decline in colony strength and in the egg laying rate of the queen was observed. The behaviour of exposed foragers was negatively influenced by the exposure; there was neither honey nor pollen in the colony at the end of the experiment.
In 2011 the Swiss researcher Daniel Favre analysed the sounds that bees make when mobile phones are nearby. He wanted to know what effect the phones would have on bee behaviour. Mobile phone handsets were placed in the close vicinity of honeybees and the sound made by the bees was recorded and analyzed. The audiograms and spectrograms revealed that active mobile phone handsets have a dramatic impact on the behavior of the bees, namely by inducing the “worker piping” signal. In natural conditions, worker piping either announces the swarming process of the bee colony or is a signal of a disturbed bee colony.
This scientific paper by Thielens et al gives detail of ‘Exposure of Insects to Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields from 2 to 120 GHz’ March 2018. It shows the extent to which radiation affects insects’ bodies. Research such as this 2004 paper [‘Effect of GSM 900-MHz Mobile Phone Radiation on the Reproductive Capacity of Drosophila melanogaster’] on the fertility of fruit flies reveals the damage to their DNA of exposure mobile phone frequencies at even very low exposures.
Perhaps the most disturbing evidence of harm is a June 2010 experiment conducted by biologist Alfonso Balmori in Spain when he exposed eggs and tadpoles of the common frog (Rana temporaria) to electromagnetic radiation from several mobile (cell) phone antennae located at a distance of 140 meters.
The experiment lasted two months, from the egg phase until an advanced phase of tadpole prior to metamorphosis. In the exposed group (n = 70), low coordination of movements, an asynchronous growth, resulting in both big and small tadpoles, and a high mortality (90%) was observed. Regarding the control group (n = 70) under the same conditions but inside a Faraday cage, the coordination of movements was normal, the development was synchronous, and a mortality of 4.2% was obtained.
As Balmori himself said, “this research [should] have huge implications for the natural world, which is now exposed to high microwave radiation levels from a multitude of phone masts”. This is a list of more studies concerning wildlife, including more studies by Balmori.
Birds, bees and other creatures all have magnetite in their bodies, which helps them with navigation using the Earth’s magnetic field.
As far back as 2004 there was concern that manmade microwaves could interfere with birds’ ability to navigate. In an experiment involving robins, researchers showed that the birds’ orientation with the Earth’s magnetic field was severely disrupted by the application of extremely weak alternating electromagnetic fields. A broad spectrum of frequencies between 0.1-10MHz at field strengths as little as 0.085 microtesla (about 500 times weaker than the Earth’s field) made the birds completely unable to respond to the Earth’s field! According to Dr Andrew Goldsworthy, the quantum mechanics of the process suggest that these alternating fields are likely to be perceived as a blinding “magnetic light” that blots out the bird’s “magnetic vision”.
3. Habitat loss
Not only are we exposing all wildlife to an increasing intensity of radiation, we are simultaneously destroying more habitat. Of extreme concern is the decision by local authorities to remove trees. Ordnance Survey has been tasked with providing the Government with geospatial data for the implementation of 5G and its own surveys confirms that trees get in the way of 5G signals (Ordnance Survey link). The first survey was carried out in Bournemouth, a trial site for 5G.
People have been resisting the threat to 15,000 trees in Sheffield where more than 5,500 have already gone [apparently due to a mistake by the contractor?]. There are unconfirmed rumours that Devon County Council plans on getting rid of 440,000 – on the pretext of controlling ash die back. Major roads and rail networks have already removed trees and wifi is now more readily available on trains. The result for wildlife is increasing island-isation, and we only have ourselves to blame.
As well as the deliberate removal of trees, because they get in the way, there is evidence that the radiation itself damages plant life. In 2015 a group of scientists carried out research in two cities in Germany. They were able to compare damaged with undamaged trees and came to the conclusion that trees near phone masts suffered, starting with the side facing the mast and eventually spreading to the whole tree over time.
Already we have seen catastrophic declines in birds (nearly 3 billion birds gone from north America since 1970) and insects: with the most recent warning from scientists about insect disappearances published in February 2020 in ‘Biological Conservation’ (link). This paper recognises RF-EMR as one of the pollutants harming insects but accepted that “the effects of electromagnetic pollution on insects and other life-forms, including humans, are still very badly understood and deserve further exploration”.
What made little sense to the US researchers is that, of the nearly 3 billion birds gone from north America, not all vanished because of farm sprays or climate change. Researchers were surprised by the losses of so many backyard birds. They blamed the cats. Cats, however, do not eat insects.
One cannot deny the loss of insects. The latest report sponsored by the Wildlife Trusts written by Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University confirms as much, claiming that the abundance of insects may have fallen by 50% in the last 50 years. In the UK there has even been a 55% decline even in uplands between 1980 and 2013 (link). No one sprays uplands and the climate hasn’t changed that much. But there are masts there; as there are in areas where the USA backyard birds were. In the opinion of Prof Goulson, “the pace of development and deployment of new technologies far outstrips that of scientists to assess their impacts on the environment, and also far outstrips the ability of nature to adapt” [Wildlife Trust report 2019].
And what are we doing about all of this? Nothing… Making it worse (?)
Ofcom confirmed that in 2018 78% of adults used a smartphone and that 65% of the UK landmass had coverage from all four mobile network operators. The Government is committed to extending geographic mobile coverage to 95% of the UK by the end of 2022.
It is 4G that is already doing the damage; and it is 4G that the Government wants to intensify in the countryside with its £1bn deal with the phone companies. The countryside is as vulnerable as urban areas to RF-EMR because companies like Airband rely on wireless networks. Fibre to the premises would be a safer option. But nothing has been tested for safety or impacts.
The Government responded in answer to FOI requests by Buglife in July 2019 that no environmental impact assessments have been carried out – even though telecommunications plans that may have a significant effect on the environment must be subjected to an Environmental Assessment as set out in Section 5 (2)a of the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004 Act.
There is a duty to conserve biodiversity as set out in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities 2006 Act. Section 40 places this duty on public authorities in England: “public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity”.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF 2019) revised in February 2019 states that planning policies and decisions should ‘contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by: … minimising impacts on and providing net gains for biodiversity’ [clause 170 (d)]; and that when determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the following principle: ‘if significant harm to biodiversity resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternative site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused‘ [clause 175 1.(a)].
Now is the time for the legislation to take effect. We are witnessing significant harm to biodiversity.
If we want to give birds and bees a chance of surviving all the other challenges they face – climate change, pollution, habitat loss – then the very least we can do is stop the removal of trees and habitat; as well as minimise their exposure to manmade radiation by insisting that even the hard-to-reach countryside is protected with a full fibre roll out.