Baker Consultants support an active programme of research aimed at improving ecological survey and analysis techniques. Working in collaboration with a Nottinghamshire based ringing group and using Wildlife Acoustics unattended acoustic recording devices (ARDs), Ecologist Steve Docker is researching male European nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus bioacoustics. Read more
Baker Consultants, alongside Wildlife Acoustics and Nottingham Trent University, recently organised a national workshop meeting on Bird Bioacoustics. This was attended by 40 delegates from the consultancy, academic and conservation sectors, who discussed the use of acoustic recording methods for bird survey and monitoring. The technology and techniques for recording bird songs and calls in the field have developed rapidly in recent years, and can offer improved data and greater coverage than traditional survey methods. The workshop aimed to address this, highlighting the significant benefits and starting the communication of important principles and best practice guidance between professionals.
As part of the output from the workshop, the speakers have kindly allowed their presentations to be made available. These can be accessed using the links below:
Nottinghamshire Bat Group has recently been undertaking research on the rare barbastelle bat.
Trees provide an essential resource for all our legally protected bat species. They provide foraging and commuting habitat and shelter, with almost all of our resident bat species known to roost in trees; indeed some almost exclusively.
Tree climbing is therefore a very useful survey tool for a Natural England licensed bat ecologist, enabling them to undertake assessments of potential roost features within trees at height and complimenting other survey approaches, such as preliminary assessments from the ground and nocturnal surveys. Potential roost features might consist of a split, cavity, hollow, callus roll (a tree’s response to a wound) or loose bark in or around a branch or trunk of a tree.
Last week, two of our licensed bat ecologists, Matt Cook and Jake Robinson, successfully acquired their Level 2 City & Guilds NPTC awards in tree climbing and aerial rescue, formerly the CS38 ‘ticket’. This means that Matt and Jake are now professionally trained and certified to safely access and work in trees by rope and harness, and also carry out an emergency rescue at height if necessary. Our Technical Director, Carlos Abrahams, has also been certified and undertaking tree surveys at height for bats for several years.
Following the successful completion of his course, Matt said:
“Although I’ve assessed plenty of trees from the ground during my time as a bat ecologist, and been up on plenty of roofs and ladders during inspections and whilst working onsite, I don’t think I’d been more than a few feet up a tree since I was a teenager. I’d also never done any proper climbing before – assuming a day at ‘Go-Ape’ doesn’t count!
There was therefore a lot to take in on the first couple of days of the course and I’ll admit I was quite cautious about putting my life in the hands of the knots I was tying and remembering what to do when and where when dangling twenty feet off a branch. At least I felt ok working at height, as I can imagine this is what puts many people off this kind of work. It was surprisingly tiring for the first couple of days, as several people had warned me; I’m fairly fit and enjoy running, walking, cycling and playing football, but all of these only really use your legs!
As the course progressed though, I became more competent and my confidence grew as I improved my overall technique. However, I fully expect to be honing my skills continuously each time I head up a tree, which are of course all highly variable. Overall, I was really pleased to have successfully passed the course and am looking forward to undertaking some surveys and providing subsequent advice”.
Indeed Matt and Jake have already been assisting an experienced ‘tree climber’ with bat surveys of trees at height this week. Their training in this specialist survey skill has therefore already directly benefitted one of our valued clients.
Bat surveys and tree climbing
Usefully, and unlike many surveys for bats and other fauna, surveying trees at height for bats can be undertaken at any time of year. This is because bats can potentially use trees all year round to roost and also hibernate. Best practice would always be to undertake a preliminary assessment of a tree from the ground for its potential to support bat roosts prior to any felling or significant pruning or coppicing etc. If a potential roost feature is identified, and the presence or likely absence of bats cannot adequately be determined from below, further surveys of this potential roost feature should be undertaken. This might include a suite of nocturnal surveys, but may also or alternatively include an assessment of this potential roost feature at height i.e. tree climbing.
Baker Consultants can offer all of the above ecological assessment services with regard to bats, so please contact us for a discussion about your project or visit our Bat Survey page for further information.
Five of our ecologists contributed to a Nathusius’ pipistrelle (Pipistrellus nathusii) research project that featured on The One Show on BBC1 as part of the film Bats Without Borders by Icon Films! Our Senior Ecologist Matt Cook led the project for Nottinghamshire and Rutland Water and four of our other ecologists, Courtenay Holden, Katie Watson, Rich Hall and Kelly Clark have also been involved.
Background to the project
After a Nathusius’ pipistrelle was found to have migrated from Great Britain to the Dutch coast in 2013, scientists’ previously held assumption that British bats were unable to migrate across the North Sea was challenged. Bats Without Borders set out to find out whether some of the UK’s bats were migratory and if it was possible for a bat weighing only seven grams to cross the English Channel or the North Sea.
Several bat groups were involved in the Bat Conservation Trust and University of Exeter study, including Nottinghamshire Bat Group, for which Matt is project co-ordinator. Matt led the project for Nottinghamshire and Rutland Water, overseeing the catching of 46 Nathusius’ pipistrelles so far. These bats have all been adult males, with five recaptures from within Nottinghamshire and at Rutland Water, one of which has actually ‘migrated’ over 10km along the River Trent. The project group hope to catch a breeding female, which they hope to radio-track back to a roost. This would be an important piece of research, as there are currently no known active roosts on mainland Great Britain. Two to three more maternity roosts were discovered this summer, but none of any notable numbers.
About Nathusius’ pipistrelles
The Nathusius’ pipistrelles are associated with freshwater habitats, mainly large water bodies, and their diet largely consists of medium-sized flying insects such as aquatic flies, midges (particularly non-biting midges), mosquitoes and caddis flies. They feed by aerial hawking, meaning they pursue and catch their prey in flight. In comparison to other pipistrelles, they typically fly higher, faster and further, and have distinctive social and advertisement calls. They typically weigh between six and 13 grams.
Distribution-wise, Nathusius’ pipistrelles occur across mainland Europe, generally migrating north-east to south-west in autumn. They were first recorded in the UK in the 1940s in Shetland and were considered only a migrant visitor to the UK until the 1990s, when a small number of mating and maternity colonies were found. Overall, they are considered widespread, although uncommon. Less than ten mainland Great Britain maternity roosts have been recorded and none have been found to be active since 2012 (the last roost was in Kent). This means there are no major hibernation sites.
There is still much that is unknown about Nathusius’ pipistrelles in the UK, including the nature of their movements in and out of the UK, their migration routes and origins, their population status and their distribution. We hope that the research Matt, Courtenay and Katie have been involved in provides an important stepping-stone to better understanding the behaviour of this fascinating species.
The full results from the stable isotope analysis of the discreet fur samples taken from the bats caught in 2014 are due very soon. However, the preliminary results suggest that most of the Nathusius’ pipistrelles are likely to have moved quite significant distances.
Our latest in-house training course, run by Senior Ecologist Matt Cook (BSc (Hons) MSc MCIEEM), covered advanced bat survey techniques including using harp traps and acoustic lures.
After an initial training session on advanced bat surveys including Natural England class licensing back at the office, our terrestrial colleagues set off into the wilds of Derbyshire (or Carsington Water, as it is popularly called) for some field training in the use of harp-traps and acoustic lures.
This latest in-house training was a very informative and hands-on session, with five different species of bat caught under licence: Daubenton’s bat, whiskered bat, Brandt’s bat, brown long-eared bat and soprano pipistrelle. This allowed for close examination of common bat identification features such as size, ears and tragus, and the presence or absence of a post-calcarial lobe. Being able to identify a bat in the hand is important for our ecologists working with these protected species.
Beyond this, there are other benefits that ‘advanced’ survey techniques can bring to our clients and their projects; for example:
- These techniques can assess where key flight-lines and bat activity hotspots are on a site, ensuring that mitigation measures are evidence-based;
- They can remove many of the limitations of bat detectors, especially for quiet and cryptic species, by allowing identification of species, sex and an assessment of breeding status;
- They can often be more cost effective than ‘traditional’ alternatives, as they can reduce the amount of time needed in the field; and,
- Overall, important information about bat assemblages on a site can be gathered to help maintain the Favourable Conservation Status of these European Protected Species.
Additionally, development of these skills sets us apart from other consultancies, as very few have the in-house expertise to conduct these types of surveys.
About Baker Consultants
At Baker Consultants, we regularly run in-house training sessions to make sure our colleagues continue to develop throughout their careers, encouraging colleagues to share their specific expertise with others. This internal training helps to maintain the high professional standards expected by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and our clients.
About Matt Cook
Matt is an experienced bat ecologist, holding Class licenses 1 to 4, and with a range of survey and reporting experience. Matt’s passion for all things bat-related extends outside work, where he has been actively involved with local bat conservation groups since 2008. Matt has also been coordinating the Bat Conservation Trust National Nathusius’ Pipistrelle Project in the region for the last two years (read more about this here).
There are 17 resident breeding species of bat in the UK and all bats and their roosts are protected from harm and disturbance at all times by EU and UK law. Bats’ foraging habitats also receive some protection within the planning system. Bats can typically be surveyed between April and October using a variety of different survey methods. For more on bats, visit our Bat Surveys page.
Last week, as part of our ongoing CPD and survey innovation commitments, two of our Natural England licensed bat ecologists attended an advanced bat survey techniques training course in Sussex at the National Trust Slindon Estate. Uniquely, this course is run via the not-for-profit Bat Conservation and Research Unit (BatCRU); something that particularly appeals to our conservation-minded ecologists. In essence, the trainees taking part in the course are also acting as researchers and funds generated from the training courses (alongside a grant from SITA) enable the BatCRU to undertake The West Sussex Bat Project with support from the National Trust.
The course has been running since 2013 and the overall aim is to use the data acquired from all the research to apply for a grant for large-scale bat habitat improvements in West Sussex, particularly for rare Annex II bat species (such as the barbastelle bats shown below) from the EU LIFE+ fund.
What bat survey skills did we learn?
For Diana Clark, Senior Ecologist at Baker Consultants and licensed at level 2 by Natural England, this was her first time on the week-long course. An experienced bat ecologist with many years experience as a consultant (and with local bat groups), Diana was keen to learn more about the use of advanced survey techniques such as mist nets, harp traps, acoustic lures, professional night-vision equipment and radio-tagging and -tracking, as well as research techniques such as ringing. Suffice to say Diana now has an excellent understanding of these methods, and when best to use them, and was lucky enough to get up close and personal with a couple of new (to her) bat species.
For Matt Cook, Senior Ecologist at Baker Consultants, this was actually his third time. Matt already holds a Natural England level 3 and 4 class licence to survey for bats using the above techniques, but is always keen to advance his knowledge further and study bat ecology in general; particularly when he can support the research being undertaken by BatCRU.
All bats and their roosts are protected from harm and disturbance at all times by EU and UK law and bats’ foraging habitats also receive some protection within the planning system.
- For more information on how our advanced bat survey techniques can benefit your project or if you have any queries relating to bats and your project, please contact Matt Cook, Senior Ecologist.
- Read more about our bat services here.
The course Matt and Diana attended was devised and run by Daniel Whitby, Director of AEWC Ltd with additional support from Daniel Hargreaves of Trinibats. Both Daniel W and Daniel H are technical advisors to the Bat Conservation Trust and Natural England. If you would like more information on The West Sussex Bat Project or training courses to be run in 2016, please contact Daniel Whitby of AEWC and BatCRU.
With the terrestrial surveying season now in full swing, our ecologists have dusted down our equipment and headed out across the country on a myriad of different surveying projects using a range of innovative ecology survey techniques.
One of our key pieces of kit for carrying out a bat survey is our GoPro, which is a waterproof, HD-quality video recorder. Small and compact, we can attach this device to a helmet or pole to film footage from the top of trees, inside of lofts and many other locations.
This video shows our Technical Director Carlos Abrahams assessing a tree for its potential to support bat roosts and searching for evidence of roosting bats. It demonstrates the climbing ability and strength our ecologists need for this type of survey!
Tree climbing surveys are conducted by our CS38 qualified tree-climber and licensed bat-worker ecologists. Firstly, a daytime visit will be made to the site to identify trees within the work areas which appear to have roost potential and will require a tree climbing bat survey. Following this ground-based assessment, a tree climbing bat survey, as Carlos carries out in the video, will be carried out for all trees with moderate or high roost potential.
As part of this bat survey, any suitable cavities should be fully inspected using an endoscope. Where this is not possible, then an additional bat survey (such as an emergence survey) might be needed. A survey report will be produced to detail the ground-based, treeclimb and emergence (where required) study methodologies and results, providing an initial assessment of potential impacts and making recommendations for any necessary further survey work and/or mitigation measures.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Bioacoustic recorders could provide us with vital additional information to help us protect rare and endangered birds, such as the European nightjar. Research, led by Newcastle University, found that newly developed remote survey techniques were twice as effective at detecting rare birds as conventional survey methods.
Using automated equipment to record nightjars at dawn and dusk, when the birds are most active, the team found a 217% increased detection rate of the nightjar over those carried out by specialist ornithologists. Published this month in the prestigious academic journal Public Library of Science One (PLOS ONE) (article available here), lead author Mieke Zwart said the findings suggest that automated technology could provide us with an important additional tool to help us survey and protect rare birds.
“The results of this research will help conservationists monitor endangered species more effectively,” explains Mieke, who carried out the research as part of her PhD, supported by Baker Consultants Ltd and Wildlife Acoustics Inc. “The European nightjar, for example, is only active at night and is very well camouflaged, making it difficult to detect using traditional survey methods. Using bioacoustics techniques we can more accurately build up a picture of where these birds are, population numbers, movement and behaviour.”
The European nightjar – Caprimulgus europaeus – is a migratory species protected under the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC) and in the UK by the classification of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Nesting on lowland heath, such as parts of Sherwood Forest and Thames Basin Heath, the nightjar can be negatively affected by developments including housing. Due to this, as part of the planning process, developers must now provide data on presence and abundance of nightjar and provide mitigation plans to prevent their disturbance before planning applications will be considered.
Traditional bird survey methods involve specialist ornithologists conducting field surveys to identify and count the birds they encounter. However, these are time-consuming, must be performed by experts, and could be inaccurate when surveying species that are difficult to detect.
Bioacoustics is the science of recording of wildlife sounds and processing that data to provide information on species numbers, movement or behaviour. Using automated audio recorders and analysis software, the technology is ‘trained’ to automatically recognise the calls of individual species, in this case the nightjar. Remote recorders were deployed at specific sites and the results were compared against observations from standard human field surveys of the same sites.
Andrew Baker, co-author of the paper, said: “This is a key piece of research that has demonstrated how effective bioacoustics techniques can be for providing ecological data. This research has challenged conventional methods and could be applied to a wide range of species to give more accurate, objective data on bird numbers and distribution. The study has implications for a range of other species, including black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and woodlark (Lullula arborea). This is especially important when information on species presence and abundance is used to inform conservation projects or development plans.”
Read more about our latest nightjar bioacoustics project here.
Source Information: “The use of automated bioacoustic recorders to replace human wildlife surveys: An example using nightjars.” Mieke C. Zwart, Andrew Baker, Philip J. K. McGowan, Mark J. Whittingham. PLOS ONE, July 16, 2014
Mieke Zwart, PhD student, School of Biology, Newcastle University. Tel: 07580 362783; email: email@example.com
Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants Ltd and a co-author of the paper. Tel: 07590 122969; email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Louella Houldcroft, Senior Communications Manager, Newcastle University. Tel: 0191 208 5108/07989 850511; email:Louella.email@example.com
This work was part-funded by Wildlife Acoustics, Inc who also provided the recording devices and software to process the recordings.
Rich has written an article in the latest edition of the Wind Energy Network magazine.
The article explains the importance of preliminary assessments and scientifically robust surveys in particular for bats and they way they use habitats.
Please read the link for the full article:
- Link Wind Energy Network Magazine – Page 15
With the continued growth of our marine business, I attended this event to investigate the opportunities it presented for marine and coastal bird survey, particularly in relation to offshore windfarms.
DeTect staff delivered detailed presentations on the capabilities and technical aspects of their radar system. One of the problems with offshore bird monitoring is getting staff out on site in potentially difficult conditions; this system would allow us to record birds in all conditions, night or day, from a remote location. Analysis of the resulting images would enable us to feed into a suitable collision risk model for assessment.
The obvious problem with radar is its inability to identify species. Therefore we will always need skilled bird surveyors out in the field to ‘ground truth’ our results. DeTect have also devised a number of advancements in their software, reducing visual clutter and ensuring the clearest image possible for later analysis.
In general, radar systems are recognised as a vital tool in offshore ecological impact assessment, and should form part of any bird survey on marine developments. As always we aim to use the most innovative techniques to improve the efficiency of our work, while ensuring scientific robustness in our methods. MERLIN is one of a number of radar systems specifically designed for bird impact assessment and, of course, others could be more suited to our particular projects. Watch this space.
Renewable UK annual conference – Stand 144
Baker Consultants’ consultants will be conducting a different kind of site visit and are not expecting to encounter any great crested newts or breeding birds at the Birmingham NEC on 5th-7th November.
Come along and meet some of the team, whether terrestrial ecologists or marine mammals experts there will be someone to advise you on your renewables project.
To book an appointment please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Andrew on 07590 122969.