We’re really proud that our ‘otter hero’, Ecologist Steve Docker, has been publicly recognised by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust for his ten years of otter volunteering. Alongside three other volunteers, Steve has been responsible for over 1,800 otter records in Derbyshire.

Eurasian Otter by Steve Docker

Eurasian Otter by Steve Docker

Steve surveys for the presence of otters (field signs) along the Henmore Brook in Derbyshire, which flows through the town of Ashbourne before joining the River Dove. The brook is ideal otter habitat, being a series of shallows interspersed with deep pools.

Henmore Brook by Steve Docker

Henmore Brook by Steve Docker

Otters are something of a recent conservation success story, with otters now being present in all English counties, after all but disappearing from lowland rivers in the 1960s. Survey results such as Steve’s are important in tracking the changing fortunes of otters both across the UK and at a local level.

Steve is not our only volunteer, as many of our consultants use their professional skills for other wildlife projects.

As The Guardian reported, this January saw the announcement that wild beavers living on the River Otter in Devon would be allowed to remain, providing they are ‘proven free of disease and of Eurasian origin’. This is a potentially historic decision, as it is thought that beavers became extinct in the UK at the end of the 17th Century.

Update as of March 2015: The wild beavers have now been released back into the River Otter after being confirmed disease free.

Beavers are considered a keystone species due to their beneficial impact on biodiversity. As John Lister-Kaye, director of the Aigas Field Centre, describes it, “Beavers shift everything, tirelessly, instinctively, creatively. That’s why ecologists call them a ‘keystone species’. By doing their own thing, they create habitats and opportunities for just about everything else”.

Beaver by Aigas Field Centre

Photo by Aigas Field Centre

A nine-year study of essentially wild beavers carried out at the Aigas Field Centre found that, when measured against adjacent wetlands the beavers had not utilised, biodiversity had expanded by a factor of four.

As well as this benefit for wildlife, the wetlands created and restored by beavers can trap sediments, reduce pollution and slow water flows through a river catchment. This can help improve water quality and reduce flooding downstream, helping sustainable management of the water cycle and benefiting human communities in nearby areas.

The Devon beavers are not alone in the UK, as there could currently be around 300 wild beavers, including those in an official beaver trial in Knapdale, Argyllshire and the beavers ‘unofficially’ living wild on the River Tay, Perthshire. However, aside from the Devon beavers, no decision has been made regarding the future of beavers in the UK.

At Baker Consultants, our terrestrial ecologists are fully licensed and experienced great crested newt surveyors and have carried out accredited training in environmental DNA (eDNA) field sampling, led by Dr Jeremy Biggs, Director of the Freshwater Habitats Trust (FHT).

This innovative and recently developed survey method is used to detect microscopic fragments of DNA biomarkers belonging to great crested newts, which persist in waterbodies for between 1 and 3 weeks, depending on environmental conditions. This method can be used to determine species occupancy in ponds (i.e. presence/absence) and has the potential advantage of increasing survey efficiency from a financial, time and labour intensity perspective.

eDNA service at Baker Consultants

eDNA service at Baker Consultants

The fact that eDNA persists in waterbodies (excluding sedimentary deposits) for a relatively short period of time, means that collected samples should contain the DNA fragments of great crested newts that were recently present within the waterbody. This technique has been supported by Natural England and where negative results are returned following analysis, the requirement for further surveying using the standard bottle trapping, egg search and torchlight methods can be omitted; thus potentially saving the client time and money. Furthermore, a recent study published by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and conducted by the FHT, showed that eDNA sampling used to determine the presence of great crested newts had an accuracy level of 99.3%, compared to only 76% via the standard bottle trapping technique.

However, to support a licence application for development, Natural England will only accept the results of this new sampling technique if an appropriately trained and experienced great crested newt surveyor collects the samples. Additionally, in order to be accepted, these samples must be collected between 15th April and 30th June.

Baker Consultants are able to provide this eDNA service on request. Further details on prices and availability will be released in the near future. If you have any queries regarding this service, please contact Jake Robinson.

A paper on climate change and lakeshore conservation written by our Technical Director, Carlos Abrahams, has recently been quoted in a paper on water level fluctuations and their effect on subtropical floodplain lakes.

Carlos’ paper, ‘Climate change and lakeshore conservation: a model and review of management techniques‘ (Abrahams, 2008), proposes the use of Grime’s CSR theory (a three-way classification of plant life histories, dividing species into competitive, stress-tolerant or ruderal groups depending on their observed traits) as a framework to understand the potential impacts of climate change on shoreline vegetation.

Image of Carlos Abrahams' paper on climate change and lakeshore conservation

Carlos Abrahams’ paper

Understanding such impacts is important, as climate change is expected to cause significant changes to the hydrology of lakes, reservoirs and other wetlands. In particular, it could increase the level of disturbance produced by water-level fluctuations, which could have adverse consequences for biodiversity, water quality and human uses.

Abrahams (2008) argues that strategies to cope with these climate change impacts are currently poorly developed and, as well as proposing the use of Grime’s CSR theory, recommends a series of practical management techniques that will contribute to the adaptation capacity of shoreline ecosystems. The four key areas that he highlights are hydrological controls, substrate conditions, shoreline topography and vegetation establishment.