I had thought that 2011 would be a year of consolidation however it turned out to be one of continued expansion and forward planning. Not only did our client base increase along with turnover but we also expanded the in-house team with Carlos Abrahams joining us as Technical Director.

During 2011 we have continued to lead the industry in the practical development of bioacoustic survey techniques. Our bat specialist Paul Howden-Leach has become recognised as the UK expert in full spectrum analysis of bat recordings. While this is the technical stuff that rarely concerns our clients it means that the data collected is not only efficiently processed but it is also highly defensible in the public inquiry arena. We are now being used by other ecological consultancies to analyse the data they have collected.

The work on bioacoustics continues and we will be announcing the funding of a major research project into the use of full-spectrum sound recording for bird surveys early in the new year.

Looking forward to 2012 we are anticipating a very exciting year. With a planned expansion to the scope of Baker Consultants work, we have made two significant appointments who will lead the consultancy into an entirely new area of work and expand our geographical coverage. Keep an eye on the blog for more info’.

In 2011 we continued with our philosophy of ‘making a difference’ whether it is to our clients, our staff or the ecological profession. 2012 promises to be even more exciting.

In his Autumn Statement last week, the Chancellor George Osborne set out his views on how to improve the economy and tackle the debt crisis.
Amongst other matters, he included a few comments in relation to UK environmental legislation that have not gone down well with conservation bodies such as the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts.

 

 

The ‘Greenest Government Ever’ sets light to a Bonfire of the Directives?

In his Autumn Statement last week, the Chancellor George Osborne set out his views on how to improve the economy and tackle the debt crisis. Amongst other matters, he included a few comments in relation to UK environmental legislation that have not gone down well with conservation bodies such as the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts. In particular, the following parts of his speech have hit the headlines:

“If we burden [British businesses] with endless social and environmental goals – however worthy in their own right – then not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer.”, and

“We will make sure that gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.”

Now, some of this rhetoric (and its tone) is likely to have been included to satisfy sections of the Conservative party, but there are some actions coming out of the Autumn Statement that could make real changes to the protection currently afforded to the UK’s most important nature conservation sites. As one of those measures, Defra has been asked to conduct an in-depth review of how the EU Habitats and Birds Directives are being applied in Britain.  Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, has commented that:

“The Habitats and Birds Directives protect our rarest, most threatened habitats and species and ensure conservation interests are fully taken into account when development proposals are being considered….

The vast majority of development cases do successfully meet the Directives’ requirements but a small number raise particularly complex issues which give rise to unnecessary costs and delays. There’s also the possibility that the Directives are being used in ways for which they were not intended….

That is why I am looking forward to seeing recommendations on dealing with any overly-bureaucratic or long, drawn out examples of implementation, without compromising the current levels of environmental protection.”

The aim of this review is to reduce the burdens on business.  As well as the review of the legislation itself, Defra will also establish a troubleshooting unit to address complex projects, Natural England will be expected to provide more support for developers and industry representatives will have representation on a group chaired by Ministers so that they can raise concerns directly with Government.

This review appears to have at least some support from business, National Farmers Union and Country Landowners Association, but unsurprisingly, conservation bodies have raised immediate objections to the Government’s intention to amend, and perhaps water down, the legislation protecting designated sites.

Two letters have been published in the Observer from NGOs and well-known environmentalists such as Jonathan Porritt and Caroline Lucas, which include comments such as:

“Following the chancellor’s autumn statement, we can say that the coalition is on a path to becoming the most environmentally destructive government to hold power in this country since the modern environmental movement was born,”
and,

“The stunning disregard shown for the value of the natural environment not only flies in the face of popular opinion but goes against everything the government said in June, when it launched two major pieces of environmental policy – the natural environment white paper and the England biodiversity strategy.”

So, it’s probably fair to say the Autumn Statement proposals have received a mixed review.

But what might this mean for us as consultants and for the clients we work for?

On the one hand, developers may benefit from fewer constraints in relation to designated sites and protected species – as intended by the Government.

However, if domestic regulation was weakened to an extent where it no longer fulfilled the requirements of the ‘parent’ EU Directive, then development proposals could potentially be more easily challenged by judicial review or through recourse to the European Courts. This would increase the level of risk to developers, perhaps resulting in planning decisions being overturned or prosecutions being taken. In effect, adding complication and uncertainty to the process. A careful approach will therefore be needed to avoid any unintended consequences from changes to the law.

And do we really need to slacken the legislative burden on business from environmental regulation?  As an ecologist I would argue that the burden is not a result of the legislation per se but how the legislation is interpreted by the various Country Agencies. In so many cases we have seen demands for unnecessary survey work and claims about potential impacts that have no basis in science.  These problems will persist no matter what the legislation.

Reference sources:

DEFRA
Guardian letters

Paul reports on his trip to the Mammal Society Conference in Bangor. He attended talks on Dormice, badger mitigation and brown hares among other creatures and had a great group for his SM2 workshop.

Paul writes:

I was invited to run an SM2 workshop at the Mammal Conference held in Bangor by the British Mammal Society in early November 2011. The event was held in the Bramall building at Bangor University, which contains a small but fantastic natural history museum.

The difficulty with running an event such as this is the need to cater for a wide range of different audiences including interested members of the public who are just getting into natural history, enthusiastic volunteers (whose knowledge on British mammals often swamps many of the professionals), consultants, local authorities and academics. The conference was pitched perfectly invoking discussions within the talks and throughout the breaks and lunch.

The day was kicked off by the president of the Mammal society Dereck Yaldon, whose talk on Brown Hare populations was very interesting, of which one of the main conclusions is, he needs more hare records so please send any records to your local records office or to the Mammal Soc’s National Mammal Atlas. This was followed by a talk on badger mitigation by Penny Lewns and what works and what doesn’t. After lunch Jack Grasse gave a very unique talk on Dormouse surveying(see our dormouse blog piece here), I won’t go into detail as I think most people who attended the conference will agree that if you get a chance to see Jack speak whatever he speaks on you will remember forever. This was followed by a presentation on the Alcathose bat by Kate Williamson from Leeds university.

The mammal society gave a presentation looking at hedgehog survey techniques which required plastic sheeting, powder paint, oil white paper, paperclips, sticky back plastic and hot dog sausages. Very Blue Peter and very effective. I know I have missed other presentations out and of course all of the workshops but needless to say that the Mammal society events are well worth having a look at.

Many thanks to all of the people who organised such a wonderful event.

It took almost a whole season of survey to discover, but after monthly checks having setting out nest boxes and tubes in early June, dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius)  were discovered in hedges at a site in the south west of England.

Dormice are elusive and one of the hardest species to find.  They have a southern distribution in England and occur in Wales (with some outlier populations in the north, such as Northumberland, as well as introductions in Cheshire and Yorkshire). They can occur on sites with woodland, scrub or hedgerows, and in some counties in the South West of England they have also been recorded on relatively open, tree-less habitats such as heathland and culm grassland.

Dormice need habitats containing lots of different types of shrubs and trees to ensure a continuous supply of food throughout the year – well, until they hibernate.  When found on development sites the approach is to try and retain the existing habitats.  T

The key to successful mitigation is to ensure that the habitats remain connected to other areas of suitable habitat in the wider area.  Scrub habitats are ideal for dormice and often compensatory planting of scrub forms part of the mitigation strategy. Indirect impacts of developments are also an issue, with residential development bringing with it increased pressure on woodlands from recreational use and predators such as cats.

As a European Protected Species, dormice and their habitats have the highest level of protection afforded them, the same level of protection as bats under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.

This newsflash has just been received from Natural England announcing the withdrawal of its reptile mitigation guidelines.

Consultants and interested parties are being encouraged to provide contributions to the
re-drafting process, but the contact details do not appear to be on the NE web site but can be found on the IEEM web site.

Reptile Mitigation Guidelines withdrawn

All staff involved in planning-related reptile mitigation work should note that following some useful early feedback from ecological consultants, Natural England has decided to withdraw the first edition of the Reptile Mitigation Guidelines (Technical Information Note No. 102, dated 9 September 2011) to enable various points to be clarified and addressed.  This is an important work area, potentially affecting large numbers of planning applications in England, so we wish to ensure that the guidelines are as clear and as widely accepted as possible.

The first edition of the Reptile Mitigation Guidelines is therefore null and void.  All quotes, surveys and technical reports produced by consultants using older guidance (i.e. pre-dating TIN102) will still be acceptable, even if the work continues into 2012.  Any new fee proposals produced can also continue to follow previous guidance until such time as the guidelines have been re-published.  To reduce this inevitable overlap period, the second edition of the Reptile Mitigation Guidelines will be issued as soon as possible, certainly before the start of the next active season for reptiles.

In the meantime, the first edition can be treated as a draft and we are giving interested parties a chance to make additional comments to help us further improve the guidelines.  The deadline for these contributions is 1 January 2012.

The European Commission has published new guidance on Wind Energy developments and Natura 2000.

At over 100 pages in length, the guidance covers both onshore and marine environments and includes a step-by-step procedure for wind farm developments affecting Natura 2000 sites. Baker Consultants will be reviewing this guidance and assessing the implications for our various projects.

For more information on the European Commissions environmental remit click here.

You can download it here to peruse at your leisure.

Natural England has launched new guidelines on survey and site
mitigation for reptiles, producing a single set of standards for good
practice in reptile ecology work. It is aimed at developers, local
authorities and consultants.

All species of reptile are now on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP)
priority list, so their conservation has to be taken into account during
the planning process, whenever a site supports populations of grass
snake, slow worm, common lizard or other reptiles.

Our Principal Ecologist Kelly Clark writes:

Natural England has launched new guidelines on survey and site mitigation for reptiles, producing a single set of standards for good practice in reptile ecology work. It is aimed at developers, local authorities and consultants.

All species of reptile are now on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority list, so their conservation has to be taken into account during the planning process, whenever a site supports populations of grass snake, slow worm, common lizard or other reptiles.

The new guidelines present changes to presence / absence surveys methodology and the amount of visits that are undertaken at particular times of year. This may have implications for project planning and the implementation of ecological work.

The new guidance allows for more flexibility with timing of surveys, as now it is possible to survey from February to October, rather than only around the months of April/May and September.  But there are costs associated with this flexibility, as significantly more visits and survey effort are required to satisfy the guidelines outside of the key periods. TIN102 also presents impact mitigation guidelines which could also have a resourcing implication for any proposed development.

Kelly Clark commented….”When we are developing the costings of future reptile survey work, we will need to work more closely with the client to think through the project timescale. A balance will need to be reached between being cost effective, whilst adhering to the guidelines. If reptiles are an issue for a proposed site, then it is advised that the developer speaks to a consultant ecologist early in the project about what is required and how long it may take to complete the work in order to prevent delays.”

A PDF is downloadable here: Reptile mitigation guidelines

In a very short period of time the SM2BAT from Wildlife Acoustics has become
recognised as an industry-standard remote bat detector and is widely
used by consultants, universities and researchers.

Superior field equipment that records more calls brings with it the challenge of larger volumes of data to analyse.

Baker Consultants is now able to offer a full data processing service to assist in the analysis of bat survey field recordings. Using our library of bat call ‘recognisers’ our experienced bat ecologists can
provide a cost-effective, independent analysis of SM2 recordings.

Outputs
We will provide a detailed analysis of the data, using Songscope software, and provide the following information from each recording session:

•    A summary spreadsheet of the data including a confirmed species list.
•    A list highlighting calls which are dubious or inadequately recorded.
•    Measured call parameters will be provided for calls of rare species.
•    A date and time-indexed spreadsheet of all identifiable calls.

Benefits
•    Rapid, cost effective analysis using the SM2 native software, Songscope.
•    Full spectrum analysis capturing a greater number of calls.
•    Independent verification avoiding any charge of bias.
•    Data remains confidential and site anonymous.
•    Time and cost savings.

Please contact Carlos Abrahams if you would like more details of this service or email sm2@bakerconsulants.co.uk

SM2BAT COURSE DATES FOR 2011/12

Thursday 3rd November 2011
Thursday 16th February 2012
Thursday 15th March 2012

 

Venue: Arkwright’s Mill, Cromford, Derbyshire

The full day training sessions provide users with an introduction to the SM2BAT unit itself and will focus on the following:·

•    Getting to know the unit
•    Basic setup for deployment
•    Data download
•    Dealing with the data
•    Advanced setup techniques

Applicants will be required to bring an SM2BAT unit and an internet enabled laptop. Full details of required equipment will be set out in the joining instructions. The course fee is £225 + VAT and includes refreshments.

To book a place please contact: m.jennings@bakerconsultants.co.uk

newt

Natural England has released new mitigation guidelines for reptiles. The pdf is available for download here
TIN102.

WILDLIFE ACOUSTICS ANNOUNCES THE ECHO METER EM3 ULTRASONIC DETECTOR AND RECORDER

At the UK National Bat Conference last week, Wildlife Acoustics
announced a new hand-held bat detector and recorder. As you would expect
there was great excitement in the Baker Consultants office and Paul
couldn’t wait to get his hands on one.

Paul said: “It’s a unique piece of kit, finally we have access to
something that not only captures and records bat calls, but also shows
the calls in real-time as they come in on the screen.”

Here’s an extract from the press release and a link to the Wildlife Acoustics site to learn more. We are expecting products to be widely available sometime in the new year.

“Bringing unparalleled features, ease of use and low cost to the active bat monitoring market the Echo Meter EM3 is easy to hold, lightweight (weighing less than .35 kg), and fully self-contained, requiring no additional hardware to actively monitor and record bats. The EM3 ships with built-in rechargeable batteries plus an SDHC memory card so customers can start monitoring bats upon product arrival.

Users monitor bat calls with headphones or the built-in speaker. Bat passes are recorded while the user simultaneously listens to bat calls in the method of choice: Heterodyne, Frequency Division, or Wildlife Acoustics”s patent pending Real Time Expansion mode.

As the most flexible heterodyne detector on the market, the EM3’s Auto-Het feature automatically tunes the detector based on the echolocation frequency. Users program up to four frequency presents to rapidly tune into a bat call in heterodyne and then fine tune any frequency settings with the easy to use button navigation.

The EM3 also captures voice notes along with the bat passes in the same trigger for easy direct correlation. Users may categorise or tag a bat call in real-time in one of four categories to facilitate post processing.”

Baker Consultants is hosting a seminar at DLA Piper Manchester on Wednesday 28th September.

The seminar addresses ecological constraints to development and how to
overcome the legal hurdles. If you are a planner, planning consultant,
developer or ecologist, whether for a commercial organisation or local
authority, you are welcome to attend.

Ecological issues often cost developers time and money. Whether due to great crested newts, bats, water voles or SSSIs/European designated sites, developers find themselves dealing with legal hurdles which are often difficult to overcome. Recent case law has highlighted the pitfalls and the need to get your strategy right.

Date:            WEDNESDAY 28th September
Time:            4-5.30pm
Venue:         101 Barbiroli Square, Manchester
Booking:       amy.mallett@dlapiper.com

The seminar will be led by Penny Simpson, Associate at DLA Piper UK LLP whose specialist area is in providing legal advice on “natural environment” issues to a wide range of clients including developers, industrial operators, local authorities and public interest groups and Andrew Baker, director of Baker Consultants, ecologist and expert witness.

The seminar is free and can contribute to CPD hours.

Indeed, a cheap football gag, but also a serious issue for those of us who care where Paul Howden-Leach will be appearing next on the Autumn round of conferences and workshops.

It’s lucky that he doesn’t mind travelling about too much because Paul is busy this Autumn running workshops, training courses and attending seminars to help people get to grips with their SM2BAT detectors and reveal some of their new applications in the survey field.

The first is our next SM2 training course on Tuesday 13th September.

The next is the National Bat Conference at Warwick University 16-18th September. Paul’s massively over subscribed workshop from last year is retitled “Comparison of remote bat sensing equipment and its applications” to take account of updates and new applications. A lot has been learned in a year both from field experience and from users who have attended our SM2 training courses.

Then its time for Wildlife Acoustics to come and visit us. If you have any questions for them, or our resident SM2 expert please email sm2@bakerconsultants.co.uk

The IEEM Scottish Section Conference is being held at Scottish Natural
Heritage in Perth on Wednesday 5th October. As its title is “Technological Advances in Ecological Monitoring” it would be churlish not to attend. Our colleague at Wildcare, Giles Whiteside is actually speaking this time. Paul will be going along to answer questions on the Wildlife Acoustics stand, and of course promote our SM2 training courses.

Then finally, onto the first regional event for The Mammal Society, in North Wales on 12th November. Paul has been asked to run a workshop which he has titled “Not just a bat detector”. It is of course about the SM2 and its capabilities, looking its applications for a range of survey species and environments. Paul will also outline new advances and products from Wildlife Acoustics and provide support and feedback on any issues current SM2 users are facing.

Nothing booked for December yet, except of course, actual ecology client work, oh, and Christmas – am I allowed to say that yet?!

I thought I’d let you know where you can catch up with us this Autumn.
Aside from the usual site work and reporting, Paul and Andrew are busy
writing presentations and digesting the recent updates to the SM2BAT to
present some new ideas at a range of events this season.

Andrew’s first outing is to the Spatial Ecology and Conservation Conference at Birmingham University 5th-7th September. He is presenting a paper on the potential applications of bio-acoustics for ecological survey and monitoring.

This international conference has attracted distinguished scientists in the field and should stimulate deep discussion not only into the methods of collecting biological data, but of validating new protocols. This raises some key issues of the development of ecological survey guidance (something which seems to be a pre-occupation in the UK profession) and how our statutory bodies such as Natural England will respond to rapidly developing techniques.

On Thursday 29th September, Andrew is running an event with Penny Simpson of DLA Piper entitled “Ecological constraints to development – Overcoming the legal hurdles”.

Andrew will also of course be a day delegate at this years RenewableUK annual conference being held at Manchester Central 25th-27th October. He is looking forward to catching up with many of our wind farm clients there, and will be in touch to put faces to names on the day. To book an appointment with him please email s.johnston@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

Technical director Carlos Abrahams recently visited the House of Lords
for the presentation of the 2011 Institute of Ecology and Environmental
Management Medal to Mr Pavan Sukhdev.

Pavan is a global authority on Environmental Economics, was  Project Leader for UNEP’s ‘Green Economy’ initiative and  appointed as Study Leader for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study. This work was jointly instigated by the IUCN, the United Nations Development Programme and the European Commission DG Environment. It was heralded as doing for nature conservation what the IPCC report had achieved in raising economic awareness of climate change.

You can find out more at www.teebweb.org.

The meeting was also a good opportunity to catch up with a number of old friends and colleagues and enjoy the view from the Houses of Parliament riverside terrace across the Thames towards the South Bank (see photo).