Spring and summer are the busiest seasons in our surveying calendar, with our ecologists travelling across the UK and Europe carrying out a wide variety of surveys for our clients. Here are a selection of the best ecology survey pictures from 2015 so far.

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The video below 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!

Read the full article about tree-climbing bat surveys here.

For more about our recent projects, explore the rest of our news articles or visit our case studies 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.

Three barbastelle bats in the hand, caught using harp traps and mist nets (with lures) on the course. Photo by Matt Cook

Three barbastelle bats in the hand, caught using harp traps and mist nets (with lures) on the course. Photo by Matt Cook

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.

Harp trap by Simon Curtin

Harp trap by Simon Curtin

More information

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.

Barry Wright, one of Baker Consultants’ Principal Ecologists, has along with Professor Ian Rotherham from Sheffield Hallam University developed a new system for documenting hedgerows; providing information on their biodiversity and data to inform mitigation and translocation strategies. Barry’s HEDGES system is featured in full in the Summer 2015 edition of Conservation Land Management.

Problems with current hedgerow aging system

Barry began developing his system after discovering flaws in the Hooper formula typically used for aging hedgerows. Hooper had asserted that the average number of woody species present in a 30-yard section of hedgerow could be used as an indication of its age. This is based on the assumption that hedges were initially planted with one species and have acquired more at the approximate rate of one per 100 years. However, Barry found instances where a hedge that documentation revealed as being 200 years old could, applying the Hooper rule, appear to be in the region of 400-700 years old.

Barry said: “I believe that most hedges originally consisted of more than one species and that the complex changes since their creation should not be be simplified to just giving an age to a hedge. Hedgerows are a living history book waiting to be read. We just need to learn the language”.

Barry Wright, Principal Ecologist at Baker Consultants, surveying hedgerows

Barry Wright, Principal Ecologist at Baker Consultants, surveying hedgerows

HEDGES system

Barry consequently developed the Hedgerow Ecological Description Grading and Evaluation System (which conveniently abbreviates to HEDGES!) as part of his PhD, which can be used to create replicas of historic hedgerows. One of the three levels of detail that can be recorded using the system involves recording the abundance of tree, shrub and ground flora species every four metres along a hedgerow and giving each an abundance score. This can then be used to produce a planting list that forms the basis of creating a replica hedgerow to reflect the character of the local hedgescape.

Use of HEDGES to replicate historical hedgerows

Following this method, selected lengths of seven historical hedgerows from across Yorkshire were replicated on a farm in North Yorkshire as part of the Historical Replica Hedgerow Project (HRHP). They have been replicated along a hedgeline known to have been present in 1644 at the Battle of Marston Moor, but where the majority of the hedgerow had been lost. The lengths of hedgerow were chosen specifically to represent the historical origins and development of hedges over time and the site has access as part of an educational resource provided by the farmer. The oldest examples replicated can be traced back to the Norman conquest and possibly earlier.

The replication process carried out by Barry does not aim to justify unnecessary destruction of hedgerows, but help provide further guidance as to how mitigation for loss can be made more effective and more authentic.

Extract from Barry's Conservation Land Management article Summer 2015

Extract from Barry’s Conservation Land Management article Summer 2015

Why Baker Consultants

Innovation in ecology survey methods is part of Baker Consultants’ DNA and we are experienced in mitigation and the translocation of a wide range of species, including waxcaps, reptiles and butterflies.

Read our case studies for more on:

Contact a member of our team to discuss your project

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.

Our Technical Director Carlos Abrahams conducting tree climbing bat survey

Our Technical Director Carlos Abrahams conducting tree climbing bat survey

For any bird, successfully raising chicks can be a tricky business, particularly for a ground-nesting bird such as the curlew (Numenius arquata), Europe’s largest wading bird. The curlew is listed as ‘near threatened’ by the IUCN and is a UK BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) priority bird species due to the international importance of breeding and wintering UK populations, so when our Ecologist Martin Ledger found a curlew nest with eggs during a breeding birds survey, he documented what he saw. Following his second visit to the nest, he is still debating whether the eggs he originally found had successfully fledged or been predated, most likely by a hedgehog.

The evidence

On Martin’s first visit, he found a curlew nest hidden in the grass.

Location of curlew eggs

Location of curlew eggs

Inside the nest were four unhatched eggs. Curlews typically lay between three and six eggs, which are incubated for around a month before hatching.

Four unhatched curlew eggs

Four unhatched curlew eggs

Six days later, when Martin returned, he found the scene shown below: the eggs had either hatched or been predated. If predation was the reason for the broken egg shells, Martin believes that hedgehogs would be the prime suspect, as broken egg shells are a common trait when hedgehogs predate a nest, whilst other predators generally leave less mess.

Curlew egg shell remains

Curlew egg shell remains

However, finding egg shells and no chicks in the nest doesn’t necessarily mean the nest was predated. Curlews are usually precocial, meaning that the chicks generally leave the nest as soon as they are born and find food for themselves in thick cover, whilst they wait to develop their flying feathers. So the chicks could have hatched successfully and made a quick getaway!

The jury is still out on whether these curlew eggs hatched and fledged, but either way it has made for a lively debate and given us a further glimpse into the breeding life of a curlew.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are classified for the populations of wild birds that they support. Due to an administrative muddle between three parts of government regarding SPA designations (note that there is no dispute on the science behind SPA selection criteria), the planning policy that will dictate the development of Bradford for the next two decades is being forged on an SPA citation that is 14 years out of date. This confusion is potentially widespread, as Andrew Baker’s experience at the recent Examination in Public (EiP) made clear.

Andrew recently gave evidence on behalf of Commercial Estates Group (CEG) at the EiP into the Bradford Core Strategy concerning the restrictions placed upon new house building figures by Bradford Council ostensibly due to the nearby South Pennine Moors SPA (Phase 2). The inspector agreed with Andrew’s evidence at the outset, finding the Core Strategy’s Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) to be wanting and instructing the Council to revisit the assessment. Although this revised HRA is still pending, the case highlighted important issues relating to the designation of SPAs and the interest features of these sites.

Moorland in snow

Moorland in snow

The history of this is complex, but is summarised below:

  • Prior to 1998, SPAs were designed by English Nature (Natural England’s predecessor) on a somewhat adhoc basis
  • In 1999, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), which has overall responsibility for identifying UK SPAs, produced a set of site selection criteria to formalise this process
  • In 2001, JNCC reviewed all SPAs against the 1999 selection criteria and publicised their recommended changes in a review that was formally submitted to Government (as supported by English Nature, the RSPB and the BTO) and, JNCC claim, the European Commission
  • The review process was not implemented by Natural England and, in all but a handful of cases, the pre-2001 citations are the only documents with legal status
  • Natural England claim that Government didn’t instruct them to implement the review, although DEFRA conversely blame Natural England.

So why does this matter? The South Pennine Moors SPA and the HRA of the Bradford Core Strategy provide a good example. Legally, any plan or project likely to have a significant effect upon an SPA is subject to an HRA, which must assess impacts upon the interest features. The HRA in this instance used the SPA’s original interest features from the 1998 citation, which includes an assemblage of breeding birds, as well as a number of birds that are specifically listed. However, breeding birds assemblages were not included as a reason for SPA site selection in the 1999 selection criteria, which led to breeding bird assemblages being removed from the South Pennine Moors’ interest features in the 2001 review. Furthermore, the 2001 review added additional species to interest lists and, in the case of the South Pennine Moors, the Peregine Falcon was added.

Therefore, in the case of the Bradford Core Strategy, the assessment is being made against the 1998 citation, which includes interest features (in this case, breeding birds assemblages) that JNCC does not consider as a reason for designating the area an SPA. Furthermore, the assessment does not protect species that JNCC consider to be in need of protection (in this case, Peregrine Falcon).

During the EiP, HRAs from other Development Plans within the area were also reviewed and it was found that not one reflected what Natural England regard as the legal definition of the South Pennine Moors SPA (Phase 2).

JNCC is in the process of carrying out another review of the SPA suite and we hope that Natural England’s response to this update will rectify these issues.

As part of the re-development of Carlyon Bay by Commercial Estates Group (CEG), the infamous Cornwall Coliseum was recently demolished. The iconic building was a popular music venue in the 1970s and 1980s and played host to a large number of bands including Black Sabbath, The Cure, The Who, Eric Clapton, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi and Simple Minds.

Here is a time-lapse video of the demolition in process.

Andrew Baker, managing director of Baker Consultants, recently discussed the opening of the Polgaver bat house, which was developed to provide an alternative habitat for any bats that may have been roosting in the Coliseum:

“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”.

  • For more information on the Carlyon Bay project, visit their website
  • Read our Polgaver bat house blog for more on Baker Consultants’ contribution to the project
  • Look out for our upcoming Carlyon Bay case study

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.

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.