We’re hitting the road again to exhibit at the Midlands Infrastructure and Regeneration Conference and Expo in Birmingham on 28th April. With the main terrestrial ecology season about to kick off, this will give Carlos Abrahams our Technical Director and Kelly Clark our Principal Ecologist an important opportunity to catch up with existing clients, meet new contacts and discuss future projects before the all-night bat surveys begin!

Carlos Abrahams, Technical Director and Kelly Clark, Principal Ecologist

Carlos Abrahams, Technical Director and Kelly Clark, Principal Ecologist

As a company with a head office in Derbyshire, we’re delighted to be exhibiting at and attending this Midlands-focused event. Although our business has gone global in recent years, with projects throughout the UK, Europe and as far away as Brazil, the Midlands remains one of our key focuses, particularly in relation to our terrestrial ecology services.

Not only is this a great networking opportunity, we are also keen to hear from the speakers on topics such as the Midlands housing crisis, sustainable infrastructure for balanced and affordable energy, and rail electrification. We have a wealth of expertise in providing ecological surveys within the house building, renewable energy and railway sectors, so these sessions will be of particular relevance to us.

We’d love to meet as many existing and potential clients at the event as possible, so register now to book your place (if you haven’t already) and come and meet us at our stand. Alternatively, to discuss a potential or existing project with us directly, you can contact us now.

At Baker Consultants, we support an active programme of research aimed at improving ecological survey and analysis techniques. As part of this, our Ecologist Steve Docker is currently working in collaboration with a Nottinghamshire based ringing group undertaking research into European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) vocalisations using automated acoustic sampling.

When evaluating a site for European nightjar, which is a ‘red-listed’ species of conservation concern, an accurate measure of the number of breeding pairs is essential. The standard survey method is based upon counting the number of singing ‘churring’ males. However, this is only indicative of possible breeding and does not provide conclusive evidence that birds have paired.

Experienced field workers have noted that the structure of nightjar vocalisations appears to be modified when a male has paired with a female and this current research project is investigating whether this change in vocal structure can be detected by automated acoustic sampling, represented visually on a spectrogram. To our knowledge this is something that has not been attempted before for this, or any other, species.

Nightjar spectrogram (frequency plotted against time) showing a series of major (high frequency) and minor (low frequency) phrases

Nightjar spectrogram (frequency plotted against time) showing a series of major (high frequency) and minor (low frequency) phrases

Spectrograms are a visual means of representing sound and contain a great deal of information. This project involves recording male nightjar song and testing for a relationship between spectrogram variables and breeding status. It is hoped that this work will form the basis of an improved survey method for European nightjar.

Steve said: “As I have a long-term interest in birdsong, especially the concepts of ‘song types’ and ‘vocal individuality’, I am delighted to be working on this research project, which will form the basis of my MSc dissertation. It is particularly exciting that we are applying technology in such an innovative way and that we will hopefully be able to improve standard nightjar survey methods from the basis of our research”.

Last year, Baker Consultants working with Dr Mieke Zwart and Professor Mark Whittingham of Newcastle University showed how bioacoustics is a much better technique for surveying nightjar than the standard survey method.

Last week, our Senior Ecologist Matt Cook attended the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) Wildlife and Transport Infrastructure Symposium in London on Baker Consultants’ behalf. This blog outlines his thoughts on the event:

“I have to say, following the Woodland Bat Symposium held in November, this was another excellent event organised by BCT. Although there was of course a slight bias towards bats (which suits me just fine!), the scope of this symposium extended to include a number of excellent presentations covering a variety of other taxa and the potential impacts of the European transport network upon them, as well as some professional practice case studies and advances in technology. Importantly, it seemed the audience was a good international mix of ecological consultants, researchers, wildlife conservationists, government agencies and those contractors with the difficult job of maintaining these critical transport networks.

“There were some very interesting facts, figures and findings presented about the largely negative impacts of roads on wildlife, such as on amphibians, deer, badgers and insects; but conversely also on the importance of some roadside verges for our flora. With regard to bats, the continuing message from Professor John Altringham and his University of Leeds team, as well researchers from mainland Europe, is that major roads adversely affect bat activity, abundance and diversity and that much of the mitigation in place for these projects (particularly ‘bat gantries’ and mitigation schemes where original commuting routes are ignored) doesn’t usually work. I look forward to reading more research from John Altringham and his team on this in the summer.

Outstretched male bat wing by Lorna Griffiths

Outstretched male bat wing by Lorna Griffiths

“In fact, the wider take home message from the symposium for me was that we will only design effective mitigation strategies for the increasing impacts of our transport infrastructure on all wildlife if we undertake thorough pre-development baseline studies, think carefully about mitigation and compensation design, and undertake comprehensive post-development monitoring. Only by doing this for all those taxa that may be adversely affected, will we eventually arrive at effective solutions; both in terms of monetary cost for governments and the highways agencies, but more importantly to prevent the slow degradation of our natural environment.”

Read our blog on the opening of Polgaver Bat House for more on bats.

Matt Cook - Ecologist at Baker Consultants

Matt Cook, Senior Ecologist

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.

Over 1,000 years ago, human persecution caused the UK extinction of the Eurasian lynx. Along with the loss of other apex predators, such as wolves and bears, this has led to a biological imbalance, with some prey species, such as deer, effectively having no predators to keep their populations in check. This has subsequently affected biodiversity, with increasing numbers of deer, for instance, being blamed for overgrazing and preventing the natural regeneration of woodlands, which is in turn negatively impacting a wide range of flora and fauna.

The proposal

In recent years, campaigning organisations such as the Lynx UK Trust have called for a controlled and monitored reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx to the UK in an attempt to address issues such as those above. Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Lynx UK Trust, said:

The lynx is one of the most enigmatic, beautiful cats on the planet. The British countryside is dying, and lynx will bring it back to life”.

Lynx by mpiet (http://www.mindbox.at/gallery/)

Lynx by mpiet (http://www.mindbox.at/gallery/)

The Lynx UK Trust recently ran a public opinion survey on their website and, if given the go-ahead by Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage, they will release up to 18 Eurasian lynx onto private estates in Aberdeenshire, Cumbria and Norfolk.

Why reintroduce an extinct animal?

The Eurasian lynx is a medium sized, elusive cat, currently found in Western Europe, central Asia and Russia and a predator of deer and small mammals such as rabbit and hare.

It is hoped that the reintroduction of lynx would create more natural ecosystems, attract ecotourism and control deer populations, reducing economic damage to forestry and allowing forests to regenerate naturally. However, it is uncertain as to whether lynx would catch enough deer to cause this benefit, particularly in Scotland where red deer, which are typically too large for lynx to catch, are the main culprit in preventing woodland regeneration. There are concerns regarding predation of sheep and impact on endangered bird species, such as capercaillies in Scotland and also questions regarding the choice of Eurasian lynx for reintroduction: the Iberian lynx is the closest surviving relative of the extinct British lynx and is currently the most threatened species of cat worldwide, whereas the Eurasian lynx is thriving.

Putting aside the specifics of this particular reintroduction proposal, the value of apex predators to ecosystems has been demonstrated by the relatively recent reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the USA. This reintroduction not only reduced the elk population, it also altered their behaviour:

“Researchers have documented major behavioural effects whereby elk in YNP [Yellowstone National Park], under the risk of predation by wolves, have altered their habitat use, movements, group sizes, vigilance, and other traits” (Ripple and Beschta, 2011).

This has affected elks’ browsing of trees, leading to new recruitment of woody browse species such as aspen and willow. Numerous positive impacts have resulted from this, including an increase in the abundance of certain songbirds and an increase in beaver numbers, which has in turn benefitted other species including amphibians, reptiles, fish and other mammals. Read more about the impact of the reintroduction of wolves on trophic cascades here.

This reintroduction proposal is more than just the aim of a small wildlife conservation charity; the UK is obliged under the European Habitats Directive to ‘study the desirability of reintroducing species’ that have become extinct from our region. Furthermore, the Eurasian lynx has been successfully reintroduced into other European countries, becoming a draw for wildlife tourism.

Derbyshire lynx

Coincidentally, the now-defunct Riber Castle Wildlife Park close to Baker Consultants’ head office in Cromford previously bred Eurasian lynx up until 2000. Rumours of local sightings of wild lynx continue today, following the previous release of several lynxes from their cages by animal activists protesting about their living conditions.