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CIEEM Awards 2018 Innovation Finalists

Each year, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) presents a series of awards to celebrate achievements of both the profession and of individual practitioners working within the ecological and environmental management sector.

The Innovation Award sets out to recognise a successful organisation demonstrating a novel approach to professional practice in any aspect of ecology and environmental management. The award also recognises those who are delivering sustainable benefits for society. Our nomination relates to the research and development of bioacoustics survey skills for the monitoring of western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus).

The Project:

The species the project focused on, western capercaillie and European nightjar, are cryptic species of conservation concern, sensitive to anthropogenic disturbance. The project demonstrated that bird bioacoustics results in increased species detection and financial savings related to reduced survey time, whilst providing a more quantitative assessment of the numbers of breeding nightjar pairs. The applications extend further, providing a minimally intrusive means of measuring nightjar breeding pair numbers at site level, or as part of a national census. This is particularly crucial for nightjars as conventional survey methods may be under-recording this species, conversely, the use of ‘churring’ can lead to over-estimated numbers of breeding pairs. Taken together, this results in serious implications for the conservation of nightjars, which are declining in both numbers and range.

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

The second stage of the project focusing on capercaillie lek activity was also hugely successful, readily recognising vocalisations using unsupervised software verified by manual analysis, despite challenges due to other bird species and environmental noise. Scottish capercaillie populations are at a critically low level, with the reasons for their decline being complex and not fully understood. This research has the capability of dramatically improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of conventional lek surveys. Previously unmonitored areas can now be feasibly surveyed, and high-quality long-term data can be interrogated for seasonal trends. Results also importantly indicated that traditional lek surveys can in fact cause disturbance to the birds at the lek. Baker Consultants aim to continue using bioacoustics to further aid the spatial and temporal monitoring of capercaillie to benefit conservation management efforts.

Capercaille lek showing the two key phrases

Baker Consultants intention for the work is to prove the applicability of bioacoustic methods and increase adoption by conservation bodies and ecological consultancies, which have not yet taken on the practical applications of this valuable tool. This work has been done entirely on a pro-bono basis, principally with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage.  Presently, two peer-reviewed papers have been published and made freely available, with more currently in production. Additionally, the UK’s first workshop on bird bioacoustics has been successfully organised, with over 40 participants contributing to the development of a draft bioacoustics survey protocol.  This is to be submitted for publication to CIEEMs In Practice soon, to widen awareness of the method, and gain additional feedback from the wider community.