May 2015 update:

Watch a time-lapse video of the demolition of the Cornwall Coliseum at Carlyon Bay below.

March 2015:

We were delighted to attend the official opening of Polgaver Bat House, part of the Carlyon Bay development in Cornwall. Our managing director, Andrew Baker, and senior ecologist, Mark Woods, were present as Councillor June Anderson, chairman of St Blaise Town Council, and local school pupils officially declared the new bat house open for business. Andrew has been involved with the Carlyon Bay development for over 10 years, working to ensure that protecting the ecology of Carlyon Bay has been at the heart of the project throughout.

Polgaver Bat House opening

Polgaver Bat House opening

“The bat house is the first of many features that have been designed into the scheme to ensure that Carlyon Bay is both a prime destination within Cornwall and an exemplar project for wildlife. It’s a clear demonstration of Commercial Estates Group’s commitment to help maintain and enhance Cornwall’s natural environment.

“After 13 years of working on the project, I was very proud to see the first permanent building completed. What was even more satisfying, was that the building is designed to enhance the ecology of the site and also looks so beautiful”.

Andrew Baker, managing director of Baker Consultants.

Outstretched male bat wing by Lorna Griffiths

Outstretched male bat wing by Lorna Griffiths

As well as the ceremonious cutting of the ribbon, ecologist Anton Kattan, on behalf of Baker Consultants, led a half hour interactive talk on the ‘life of bats’ for the school pupils. This fascinating insight into the nocturnal world of the bat house’s soon-to-be new residents enthralled the children, who were able to look at several bat specimens up close.

Anton's 'life of bats' talk at Polgaver Bat House opening

Anton’s ‘life of bats’ talk at Polgaver Bat House opening

The new bat house was designed by architects Squire and Partners, following detailed consultation with Baker Consultants’ ecologists, and provides an alternative habitat for any bats that may have been roosting in the soon-to-be demolished local Coliseum building. Located close to the cliff face in a woodland setting, the new bat house directly addresses the bats’ established feeding route, and is orientated east-west to give a south facing aspect to the pitched roof. As well as accommodating a key requirement to provide suitable thermal conditions, a variety of access points makes this an ideal bat roosting environment.

Polgaver Bat House

Polgaver Bat House

“Bats use a variety of roosts throughout the year and during studies of the Coliseum since 2010 we have seen a gradual increase in the diversity of species sheltering in the building.  There has never been a large colony, but individual bats were found in several internal rooms.  They are inquisitive animals and have found dark, enclosed rooms to shelter during the day. The bat house provides similar conditions to those found in the Coliseum and we have also added features to help improve roosting opportunities, with the hope that breeding animals may eventually move in. The bat house is part of a larger ecology management strategy to promote biodiversity on Polgaver”.

Anton Kattan, ecologist for Baker Consultants.

Note: Unless a bat is being rescued from imminent harm, bats should only ever be handled by an appropriately licensed (e.g. Natural England) bat ecologist and should never be handled by inexperienced persons without suitable gloves. All licensed bat handlers are vaccinated against the minuscule risk of rabies and therefore such experienced bat handlers may occasionally handle some species without gloves, as shown in the photograph above.

The third Conference on Wind Energy and Wildlife Impacts was held at the Berlin Institute of Technology between March 10th and 12th, building on prior events in Stockholm (2013) and Trondheim (2011). The bi-annual event brings together representatives from academia, government agencies, industry, conservation and consultancies throughout the world. Over 400 delegates from around 30 countries attended, and Baker Consultants were represented by ornithological specialist Martin Ledger, and marine and ornithological specialist Rich Hall.

It was a busy few days, with more than 50 posters exhibited, 162 abstracts submitted, and 65 oral presentations across two parallel streams. Martin and Rich were not only able to absorb a lot of new thinking and fresh evidence on the subject of wildlife and wind energy, but also had the chance to speak to many of the most important stakeholders in the global industry, as well as fellow consultants and academics at the forefront of the drive to improve our understanding of how to maximise the environmental benefit of wind energy whilst minimising harmful effects on wildlife.

Conference on Wind Energy and Wildlife Impacts 2015

Conference on Wind Energy and Wildlife Impacts 2015

One of the biggest themes at the event was the call to vastly improve the data we feed into our collision risk assessments, especially with the increasing number of huge offshore wind farms across the world. So many studies have shown us that the most widely used models we have do not accurately predict the fatalities that occur at a given site. The industry as a whole needs to improve, and post-construction monitoring should become a fundamental part of this process, enabling us to properly assess, at a landscape scale, the most hazardous zones for wildlife, whether it be birds or bats, particularly with the increasing number of bats reported to be making huge and impressive migrations across the North Sea.

There was also new bioacoustics research and technology presented relating to effective mitigation during the initial establishment of wind farms and the noisy piling activities that affect fish, seals and cetaceans. This is an area in which Baker Consultants is already heavily involved, with recent projects in the North Sea, such as Borkum Riffgrund 1.

Martin and Rich intend to build on the information shared at this event and take it forward into their work, primarily across the UK and Europe, as part of this drive for better methods, better data, better mitigation and better assessment.

At Baker Consultants, we have long understood the value of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to our profession, and in particular the capacity of multi-platform open-source software, such as QGIS, to facilitate our work. Several of our consultants are very experienced, capable GIS analysts but, as you’d expect with ecologists of different specialisations and backgrounds, our levels of GIS experience vary.

To refresh some of our ecologists’ existing knowledge and bring others up to speed, our marine and terrestrial ecologists recently took an intensive two-day QGIS training course led by expert tutor Dr Mark O’Connell of ERT Conservation. The in-house workshop (held at the Derbyshire Eco Centre) was designed to rapidly get everyone to a ‘competent user’ level, from which we can go on to build our own wider skills base.

Baker Consultants' ecologists on QGIS training course

Baker Consultants’ ecologists in the midst of their QGIS training

After initial introductions, Mark reminded us of a few of the basics of GIS, such as its conception in Canada in the 1960s, its vast range of uses, and the variety and importance of different Co-ordinate Reference Systems. Then came the technical bit! We were taken on a tour of geodatabases and shapefiles, vector and raster layers, and lines, points and polygons. Mark then demonstrated some of the useful QGIS functions for ecologists and conservation practitioners, such as digitising, terrain analysis, manipulating layers and editing data, as well as a selection of the many ‘plug-ins’ available for this software. Finally, we took a detailed look at the array of useful features within the geoprocessing, research and analysis toolkits. Despite Day 1 moving at a pretty quick pace, everyone kept up.

GIS in action

GIS in action

The general approach of Day 2 was to consolidate work from the previous day, and introduce the use of statistical analyses within GIS, for instance in order to test for relationships and differences in datasets. Mark outlined a number of potentially very useful functions for us professional ecologists, such as the ability to test for statistically significant habitat preferences of different fauna, as well as proximity analysis.

In summary, it’s fair to say that the course was challenging, but enjoyable. More importantly, we all appreciated the significant capacity of QGIS to support our work and are all now fully able to put into practice what we learnt.

Matt Cook, Senior Ecologist

Our principal ecologist, Barry Wright, recently led two field training workshops for the Yorkshire and Humberside branch of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Managment (CIEEM). Taking place near Wetherby at the begining of March, the workshops were devised to help CIEEM members to identify tree and shrub species in winter, including studying twigs from 19 different species, and learn the methods available for surveying hedgerows.

As well as describing existing survey methods, Barry also gave a demonstration of his own survey method, HEDGES (Hedgerow Ecological Description, Grading and Evaluation System). This is based on Barry’s own research, can be tailored to individual project needs and enables more hedgerow information to be gathered. As well as being a principal ecologist at Baker Consultants, Barry is currently completing his research for a PhD at Sheffield Hallam University in the study of hedgerows and the species that can indicate their origins and age.

Winter hedgerow

Winter hedgerow

An assessment of the ‘importance’ of a hedgerow under the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 can be required at any time of year, but surveying hedgerows in winter can be a cold, wet and daunting task especially with no leaves in the trees and bushes to make identification easier. This increases the importance for ecologists in having skills in winter tree and shrub species identification. If ecological surveys miss hedgerow species due to ecologists being unable to correctly identify trees and shrubs during winter, this could lead to the removal of a hedgerow incorrectly deemed not to meet the minimum criteria of woody species presence.

Despite these problems, surveying hedgerows in winter has its benefits. Without leaves to get in the way, it is easier to see the structure of a hedge, such as evidence of laying, and ground flora is more clearly visible. This is beneficial, as woodland ground flora species like Bluebell, Dog’s Mercury and Lords-and-Ladies can add to the scoring for a hedgerow to be assessed as ‘important’ under the regulations. Ground flora species such as these and Ivy are often hidden under foliage in summer, unless there is vigorous growth emerging on the outside of a hedge.

Barry Wright, principal ecologist at Baker Consultants, surveying hedgerows

Barry Wright, principal ecologist at Baker Consultants, surveying hedgerows

Even if winter surveying of a hedgerow is not specifically required, carrying out a winter survey is still desirable, so as to complete the picture following a summer survey to record the frequency and abundance of trees and shrubs along the hedge.

Emma Checkley, ecology intern at Baker Consultants, has recently spent a month with the Global White Lion Protection Trust in South Africa. She has been recording lion vocalisations as part of her research into leonine communication. The recordings will be used to build a bioacoustic profile of the African lion (Panthera leo). It is hoped that this profile will result in the creation of a pioneering non-invasive method of monitoring lion populations. With only around 3,100 wild lions left in South Africa, it is a crucial time to implement innovative conservation measures to ensure their survival. This is an exciting project carried out on opposite sides of the world to protect an iconic species.

Matseing, adult male white lion of the Tsau pride

Matseing, adult male white lion of the Tsau pride

The Global White Lion Protection Trust has reintroduced white lions into their endemic habitat of Timbavati, South Africa, where they had previously been extinct in the wild for over a decade. The white lions are a genetic rarity, bringing valuable genetic diversity to the Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere; an area in which lions are at serious risk of a population crash. The white lions also have immense cultural and spiritual significance, with long-standing legends of white lions existing in the oral knowledge of the high priests of Africa for over 400 years. Linda Tucker (CEO) and Jason Turner (head lion ecologist) at the Global White Lion Protection Trust have supported Emma’s research.

“The reintroduction of the white lions back in their endemic range represents a critical landmark in conservation history” – Dr Ian Player, late Patron of the Global White Lion Protection Trust

Bioacoustic recording equipment with the Akeru pride. Photo by Neil Bone

Bioacoustic recording equipment with the Akeru pride. Photo by Neil Bone

Emma joined Baker Consultants in October 2014, mid-way through her studies in Wildlife Conservation at Nottingham Trent University. She has been assisting senior ecologists with their work in the office and in the field.

She has also been responsible for building a new technological app, which will be used during future wildlife and habitat surveys. The bioacoustics team at Baker Consultants have supported Emma with her study, with skills gained analysing bat calls in the UK being applied to lion roars in the African bush veld. For further information, please contact echeckley123@hotmail.co.uk