An Unseen Problem

It is fair to say that, when discussing the environmental impacts of offshore wind, birds and marine mammals have certainly been at the forefront of the collective thinking of regulators, consultants, academics and the industry in general. In our experience, it is very rare that we are asked to consider bats in our approach to pre-construction surveys or impact assessments. In attending last September’s Conference on Wind Energy & Wildlife Impacts in Portugal, we found that studies regarding bats formed a very small proportion of the overall representations of the assembled experts from around the world. However, the evidence that was presented was intriguing, and most certainly a clear warning that we are not doing all we should to consider the potential impacts on bats from these installations.

The problems are clear – bats are small, nocturnal animals and, if they are crossing our seas, the chances of detecting them on radar systems (designed to detect flocks of migrating birds), or observing casualties of such a tiny animal in a vast waterbody like the North Sea are minimal. We do know, however, that various bat species cross our seas, and perhaps even forage further away from the coast than we would think is feasible. Anecdotal evidence, and increasing numbers of localised studies, show bats of several species feeding up to 10km offshore, and occasionally even beyond that, as well as being observed resting/ roosting on offshore installations such as oil rigs, and even wind turbines themselves (Ahlen et al 2007). In the right conditions, large numbers of bats could be following significant aggregations of insects far out to sea, possibly placing them in harm’s way as more and more wind farms spring up around the Baltic and North Seas, as well as Europe’s Atlantic coastlines.

Regulation & Guidance

The lack of evidence, and the difficulty in collecting that evidence, has posed a problem for the organisations tasked with ensuring that the environmental impacts of offshore development are minimised and mitigated for appropriately. To date, only Germany has devised formal guidance for offshore bat study and impact assessment. Other nations propose an approach based on the EUROBATS publication ‘Guidelines for consideration of bats in windfarm projects’ (revised 2014). The primary function of the EUROBATS initiative is to conserve Europe’s bat populations, and it is recognised that we simply do not know enough about offshore bat activity to rule out significant problems for the populations of several species, most notably Nathusius’ pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii, soprano pipistrelle P. pygmaeus, and noctule Nyctalus noctula (Arnett et al 2015).

Broadly, the guidance recommends that any boat-based surveys be conducted during April and May (inclusive) and August and October (inclusive) to cover the vital migratory season. For installations closer to shore, or in narrower channels, land-based surveys conducted from headlands will supplement this work, with additional surveys in June and July to cover periods of higher foraging activity in calmer conditions.

A Bespoke Approach

In interpreting this guidance, and ensuring that any development complies fully with regulations and minimises any ecological impact, it is vital that the programme of survey work is designed to provide us with a strong, evidence-led basis for our assessment. All potential offshore turbine sites will present their own unique conditions and challenges. We would always aim to make the most efficient use of our time by combining other necessary work, such as boat-based bird survey, with the deployment and retrieval of bat detection equipment, and simultaneous nocturnal bird and bat activity surveys.

The use of appropriate technology will be crucial to any study of offshore bats. Automated bat detectors would be used on land (at potential crossing points) and, where feasible and necessary, at sea on platforms such as rigs, buoys or night operating ferries if they are in the vicinity of the proposed wind farm. As well as hand-held bat audio detection equipment on our boat-based transects, thermal imaging cameras will be utilised to visually monitor the area and add as much as possible to the dataset.

As technology advances, our work, and collaborative efforts with academic institutions, will assist our understanding of where, when and how bats are using the open sea. Studies involving radar and GPS tags (available now for even the smaller bat species) will be consulted to broaden our understanding of this phenomenon, and how we can combine this with our data to design meaningful mitigation for bats as part of the spectrum of ecological considerations at future offshore wind farms.

References

Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World; Chapter 11 – Impacts of Wind Energy Development on Bats: A Global Perspective, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-25220-9_11. E.B. Arnett at el (2015).

EUROBATS Publication Series No. 6: Guidelines for Consideration of Bats in Wind Farm Projects – Revision 2014. L. Rodrigues et al (2014).

Bats and Offshore Wind Turbines Studies in Southern Scandinavia (Swedish Environmental Protection Agency). Ahlen et al (2007).

 

Environmental DNA (eDNA) testing is a recognised survey technique for establishing the presence or absence of great crested newts in ponds during the breeding season. Using eDNA sampling has many advantages for projects, including fast turnaround times and potentially eliminating the need for further surveys – both factors which have beneficial cost implications for projects.

Great Crested Newts (like this one picture) are European Protected Species. Image by Senior Ecologist, Matt Cook

Great Crested Newts (like this one pictured) are European Protected Species. Image by Senior Ecologist, Matt Cook

Advantages of eDNA Sampling

eDNA sampling has a number of advantages over more traditional methods of surveying for great crested newts, allowing samples to be collected up until 30th June. The protocol requires only one daytime visit by a licenced ecologist during the newt breeding season to determine presence or absence. This means that eDNA sampling has the potential to reduce the level of survey effort needed in comparison to conventional methods, which require a minimum of four survey visits, each including evening and morning survey, between April and June.

There are a number of scenarios where this technique can benefit projects, including:

  • As a cost effective way of scoping future survey requirements (i.e. population size class assessment surveys) for projects where there is sufficient time available to carry out the detailed conventional survey the following year.
  • To confirm absence in ponds that are considered to have low potential to support great crested newts but where further confirmation is required.
  • For ponds with high potential to support great crested newts, and where a key part of the conventional survey period (mid-April to mid-May) has been missed, but where there is still time available to collect eDNA samples (before 30th June). In this situation, an eDNA finding of “absence” would avoid the need for further conventional presence/absence survey.

eDNA Sampling

Great crested newt DNA is released into aquatic environments through shed skin cells, urine, faeces and saliva. The trace DNA can persist in water for several weeks and collected using the detailed sampling and analysis protocol that has been devised (samples should be collected between 15th April and 30th June). Samples are then sent to a recognised laboratory for analysis. The highly sensitive laboratory testing is based on qPCR, allowing detection of great crested newt presence or absence.

Laboratory testing is conducted by our partner NatureMetrics, a highly experienced company who have conducted GCN eDNA analysis since 2015. NatureMetrics follow Natural England’s approved protocol (WC1067), which ensures that the test meets regulatory requirements. As industry leaders, NatureMetrics provide a quality service, and scored 100% in the 2018 proficiency test.

Testing turnaround times can be suited to the project’s needs. Options include Standard Turnaround (10 working days from receipt of sample in the lab) and Fast Turnaround service (5 working days from receipt). Super-fast turnaround (2 days) is also usually available on request.

Baker Consultants has extensive experience in great crested survey and mitigation, including major infrastructure project work involving thousands of newts and complex EPS licensing. We have numerous licenced great newt surveyors and we have undertaken eDNA survey work since in 2015.

 

Our Technical Director, Carlos Abrahams, was invited to present a talk at the recent Herpetofauna Workers Meeting.  This national conference has been running annually for nearly 30 years, and attracts around 200 delegates. It is the main meeting covering reptile and amphibian ecology and conservation in the UK.

 

The meeting attracts a diverse audience representing: conservation organisations, ecological consultants, statutory bodies, land managers, academic institutions and students, and enthusiastic volunteers.

Carlos was speaking about his recent publication on declining amphibian populations in northern France. This research, with fieldwork carried out between 1974 and 2011, was undertaken with colleagues from the Netherlands to repeatedly track amphibian populations and habitat change over an area of northern France.

The research showed that common adaptable species remained widespread, but that some rarer species, with more exacting habitat requirements, declined significantly. The main reasons for these were pond loss, increasing urbanisation and changes in agricultural practice in the area, with shifts from pasture to arable production.

However, the benefits of practical conservation effort were also demonstrated, as new ponds created in areas of good quality habitat , were quickly colonised by a range of amphibians. This shows that habitat creation/restoration can play a valuable role in conservation, counteracting the adverse effects of land use change and development.

In order to protect its position on issues of air quality that may have the potential to affect the Ashdown Forest SPA/SAC, Wealden District Council has taken the extraordinary step of objecting to residential development in neighbouring authorities and beyond. The objections raised by Wealden District Council include even small residential developments of a few units some 30km away from Ashdown Forest, in authority areas that do not share a border with Wealden District. The objection letters also refer to other European sites where air quality, particularly nitrogen deposition, is unlikely to be detrimental to the interest features of the site.

Heather in bloom on lowland heathland, Rockford Common, Linwood, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England, UK, sunrise, August 2011

Lowland Heathland, 2011.

While it is clear that air quality is a key issue for some European sites and one that needs to be addressed, it is also true that there are ways in which the effects of additional traffic generated by new residential development can be mitigated, avoiding the need to trigger an Appropriate Assessment under the Habitats Regulations.

Our advice to developers within the region is to ensure that, prior to submission, they prepare a statement to accompany their planning application which sets out: a) whether there are likely to be any effects of air quality arising from the project, and b) if there are, how these effects will be mitigated. For large development this will require a multidisciplinary approach involving ecologists, air quality expertise and traffic consultants.

In a statement, Wealden District Council has referred to their ‘precautionary approach’ which we take as a reference to the precautionary principle and a misinterpretation of that tenet.

 

 

A significant proportion of our work could be described as ‘rescue’ jobs, where a client approaches us to pick up from another ecologist’s work, because for whatever reason they cannot continue with the project. Mostly, it is simply that the previous consultant does not feel comfortable appearing as an expert witness at a public inquiry (it’s not for everyone), or they do not have the specialist knowledge for a particular aspect of the work.

In all cases, a thorough review of the previous ecologists’ work is conducted to ensure that nothing has been missed. The most common failing that we find is in regards to bat surveys. It seems that many ecologists are using now out-dated equipment to capture survey data including heterodyne, time expansion and zero crossing detectors. This creates a series of problems: the data collected is inaccurate as it doesn’t capture accurate GPS readings or misses bat activity; and data processing is more time-consuming, can lead to misidentification of bat species, and therefore will be unrepresentative of the site population. More concerning is when modern equipment is used but then incorrectly analysed. This effectively loses a large proportion of the collected data, fails to follow best practise, and can cause serious implications further in the project.

This is a highly technical issue, of which most clients may be unaware. However, incorrect use of bioacoustics technology can pose a significant risk to a project, especially in obtaining planning permission or as part of a Habitat Regulations Assessment. As industry leaders, Baker Consultants uses the latest full spectrum detectors which capture all signal information and output it in real-time. The data collected is highly detailed, suitable for analysis using automated bat recognition software which is manually validated by experts. In Layman’s terms, large amounts of valuable data can be collected and analysed cost-effectively and accurately. This method undeniably produces better results for the project long-term.

Figures 1 and 2 further highlight the differences between zero crossing and full spectrum data. The two methods processed the same bat data record, however, zero crossing (Figure 1) failed to confidentially identify the Myotis bat species and the social calls from the soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus).

 

Figure 1. Bat data analysed in Kaleidoscope (Wildlife Acoustics Inc.) using zero crossing output; soprano pipistrelle identified.

 

Figure 2. Bat data analysed in Kaleidoscope (Wildlife Acoustics Inc.) using full spectrum output; soprano pipistrelle with social calls and Myotis species identified.

 

So how do you ensure that your ecologist is using the correct technical equipment to protect the outcome of your project? Simple, just ask! Specify full spectrum recording in the work brief both at the recording and analysis stage. The use of time expansion, heterodyne or zero crossing devices on your project should not be accepted. Technology has moved on, and you need to ensure that your ecologist has moved on with it.

 

We are very proud to be part of the team that helped secure a unanimous vote at Monday’s Suffolk Coastal’s planning committee in favour of CEG’s/Carlyle Land’s development at Adastral Park.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-42694552

Baker Consultants Marine Limited used toxicity tests combined with chemical characterisation of a site in the Baltic sea to conduct an environmental impact study; the results are determinant for the decision-making process.

What is ecotoxicology?

Ecotoxicology is a multidisciplinary science which combines Chemistry, Toxicology, Pharmacology and Ecology and aims to establish relationships between biotic and abiotic variables or measuring the effects of a particular stressor on ecologically important endpoints.

Ecotoxicology differs from environmental toxicology in that it integrates the effects of stressors across all levels of biological organization from the molecular level to whole communities and ecosystems, whereas environmental toxicology focuses upon effects at the level of the individual and below.

Why is ecotoxicology useful?

According to the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) the assessment of whether or not Good Environmental Status (GES) of our seas is achieved should be based upon monitoring programmes covering the concentrations of chemical contaminants and also biological measurements relating to the effects of pollutants on marine organisms, developing marine ecotoxicology data, including for emerging contaminants and increase knowledge on its bioavailability and effects.

As the occurrence of adverse effects at various levels of organisation (organism, population, community, and ecosystem) needs to be avoided, ecotoxicology tests (effect based methodologies, with the assessment of environmental concentrations of contaminants) provide a powerful and comprehensive approach.

 Did you know?

Recently the International Council for the Exploration of Seas (ICES) published its advice to the OSAPR commission in relation to contaminants; there it identified substances that are of growing concern and need further investigation. These include anticorrosion agents from offshore windfarms

Interesting fact: Ecotoxicology and Toxicology principles were shown on the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich!

To find out more click on the links below:

Endless Fallout documentary

Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

 

 

Andrew Baker will be tutoring on the Wildlife Law Course 8th-10th November.

The cost of the course is £175

If you are interested in booking on the course please contact Debbie Liversidge at Browne Jacobson.

For details of the course please click on the link below

The fourth Conference on Wind Energy and Wildlife Impacts came to a close on Friday 8th September, following four days of presentations, knowledge sharing and discussion on this vital issue. Our very own Kelly Clark (Principal Ecologist) and Rich Hall (Principal Ornithologist) were in attendance; Baker Consultants have now been represented at the event on three out of four occasions, including its inception in Trondheim in 2011. We are proud to continue our strong association with this global collaborative effort to enhance our understanding of the impacts on wildlife from wind energy development, and thereby guide the evolution of mitigation – alongside academic institutions, technology innovators, fellow consultants, and of course the wind energy industry itself.

Portugal’s wind energy industry has already achieved impressive feats. Currently generating around 25% of the country’s energy demand from wind alone, its offshore capacity is also experiencing a surge, and technological advancements such as floating turbines place Portugal firmly at the forefront of wind energy development in Europe and at a global level. With this in mind, the country is the perfect host for the 2017 version of the conference.

Offshore wind energy is a rapidly growing industry; figures this week from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy showed that the cost of generating energy from wind power in the UK will be cheaper than that from nuclear power for the first time in history. Advancements in strategy and technology mean that firms are beginning to overcome the issues and costs associated with logistics, efficiency and electricity storage. If these trends continue, it is likely that offshore wind will become a leading force in energy production across the UK and Europe and, where environmental conditions allow, on a global scale.

A presentation from WavEC Offshore Renewables illustrates the range of floating platforms in current development, advancing the options available to the wind industry.

 

 

Offshore Wind: a steep upward curve – a rapidly growing industry around the world.

 

With this in mind, it was encouraging to see firm commitment from industry and regulators to addressing the issues regarding wildlife impacts. Organisations such as ORJIP (Offshore Renewable Joint Industry Project) have been set up by offshore wind energy firms, in partnership with regulators, to fund vital research into the impacts of offshore wind farms with a view to advising meaningful mitigation, thereby reducing the costs and delays associated with poor science or a failure to fully address the range of potential impacts.

 

WavEC’s research also illustrates a little-known problem for offshore installations: bats.

 

Studying wildlife in the marine and coastal environment can be challenging, and gathering the level of data required to satisfy regulatory and legal frameworks even more so. Baker Consultants’ expertise and experience makes us ideally placed to provide an ecological consultancy service for the lifetime of any given project, from scoping and designing/ implementing survey protocols, through data analysis and impact assessment, to post-consent monitoring (construction and operation). Our in-house team includes consultants trained and certified to the highest standards, such as European Seabirds at Sea surveyors, and experts in avian and cetacean bioacoustics, as well as qualified UAV pilots – technology that can be particularly useful in conducting wide-ranging visual surveys as efficiently as possible.

 

With many years of combined experience in ecological and ornithological impact assessment, including coastal development, and offshore windfarm construction monitoring and mitigation, we also pride ourselves on innovation in terms of both technology and survey/ mitigation design. The growing issue of offshore bats is a case in point: a phenomenon that is difficult to study and poorly understood, but with our technology partners and unparalleled experience of bioacoustic survey, we are rising to the challenge of assessing this potential constraint on offshore development.

 

The theme of this conference is sharing and collaboration. Held every two years, it showcases the latest knowledge and research in the field, and drives the continuous improvement of techniques, methodology, analysis and assessment. A good example is the way we think about potential impacts – collision risk is still a topic of conversation, but inherent assumptions and flawed science that caused problems for this form of analysis are being driven out by well-resourced and well-funded research. The sharing of knowledge improves our understanding of statistical analysis, detailed monitoring of operational wind farms, and enhancing the importance of factors such as displacement from vital habitat, not to mention barrier effects.

 

Baker Consultants shares this enthusiasm for robust science, leading to proper assessment and targeted, effective mitigation. Working together with researchers, regulators, technology partners and the wind industry, we aim to promote these values, with a view to supporting the establishment of installations with minimal impact on wildlife, whilst maximising the potential for renewable energy.

 

Would you like to join Baker Consultants terrestrial team? We are looking for Senior Ecologists with at least 5 years’ experience to join us and expand our in-house team.  You will need to be self-motivated, have the ability to run projects, assist in attracting new clients and help drive to continue growing our business.

If you want to work in a fast-paced, innovative and forward thinking organisation that offers a flexible and nurturing working culture we’d love to hear from you. 

Contact any member of our senior team for an informal confidential chat (see our website for contact details) .

Recruitment agencies need not apply!  

 

Baker Consultants ecologist Steve Docker has recently completed an innovative research project, which used unattended acoustic recording devices to record the songs produced by male European nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus – a rare bird species that is listed on Annex 1 of the European Community Birds Directive 2009 and is an amber-listed species of conservation concern.

An accurate measure of the number of breeding pairs is essential when evaluating a site for nightjar and Steve’s research set out to identify whether different song types could be used to establish probable breeding. It is thought that acoustic recording technology has not been used for this purpose before for this, or any other, species.The standard survey method used by most surveyors is based upon a co-ordinated count of the number of ‘churring’ males.  However, singing is only indicative of possible breeding and does not provide evidence that birds have paired.  Furthermore, this method can be labour intensive and may over-estimate the number of breeding pairs because some singing males will be unpaired.

Male nightjars produce two song types, one with an abrupt ending and the other with a distinctive terminal phrase, see Figures 1 and 2.

Using nightjar songs, recorded on automatic devices placed in the field, the study looked at whether this change in vocal structure is linked to pairing status.  It revealed that the output of nightjar song with a terminal phrase was significantly greater for probable paired males – and is therefore indicative of a breeding pair being present.  This finding has the potential to provide a minimally intrusive means of measuring the number of nightjar breeding pairs at site level or as part of a national census of the species, see Figure 3.

 

Figure 1. Spectrogram (compressed view) showing male nightjar Song Type I (WITHOUT Terminal Phrase). It ends abruptly on either a minor phrase of a major phrase. Produced using Wildlife Acoustics Kaleidoscope® software

Figure 2. Spectrogram (compressed view) showing male nightjar Song Type II (WITH Terminal Phrase). The terminal phrase may be preceded by either a minor phrase or a major phrase. Produced using Wildlife Acoustics Kaleidoscope® software.

Scan the QR code to listen to a nightjar song (a ‘paired’ male).

 

Figure 3. Proposed Decision Flowchart (Nightjar Breeding Status).

In the future Steve aims to publish a scientific paper and also produce a nightjar song type recogniser to support the practical application of this ground-breaking research.

Find out how Baker Consultants are using such technology to support other research projects (Bird Bioacoustics & Nottinghamshire Bat Group) and inform our ecological consultancy projects (Terrestrial & Marine).

 

To find out more about this nightjar bioacoustics research please email s.docker@bakerconsultants.co.uk

 

The technology and techniques for recording bird songs and calls in the field have developed rapidly in recent years. Most of this development, though, has been for academic research, with little take-up so far by conservation bodies and ecology consultancies. Automated recorders and call recognition software can, however, offer better data and greater coverage than traditional survey techniques. This workshop aims to address this, highlighting the significant benefits for bird survey and monitoring – and starting the communication of important principles and best practice guidance between professionals.

The free workshop will include demonstration of available hardware and software, and presentations of case-studies. It will also seek input from attendees on how bioacoustics could be used in their work and what type of guidance they would like to see provided by recommended survey methods.

Date:  13th July 2017

Location:  Nottingham Trent University

Full programme details to follow

Interested in attending? Please email c.abrahams@bakerconsultants.co.uk

Andrew Baker, our Managing Director, is soon to publish a review of the recent court cases that have addressed air quality and how nitrogen deposition should be treated by the Habitats Regulations Assessment process. His paper will soon be published in the Habitats Regulations Journal http://www.dtapublications.co.uk/journal.

 

The cases all involve Wealden District Council and concern the effects of traffic pollution upon Ashdown Forest SPA/SAC. Together the cases will have far reaching implications for air quality assessments and how the impacts upon European sites (SPAs, SACs and Ramsar sites) are addressed. In the most recent case Natural England was heavily criticised for providing flawed advice which led the judge to conclude that an HRA of a local plan had been ‘vitiated by Natural England’s plainly erroneous advice’ that had resulted in a ‘clear breach of Article 6(3)’

 

The cases have called into question the validity of some key guidance on air quality assessments, the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DRMB) and AQTAG21 the latter having previous been widely used by Natural England, the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales.

 

We will publish the full text of the article following publication in the Journal.

 

At the end of January 2016, a revision of the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) Bat Survey Guidelines was issued. Read more

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants, provided evidence at the planning appeal

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants

In the ten days since the EU referendum we have been busy assessing the implications of the vote to leaving the EU, both for ourselves and our clients, their businesses and developments. The majority of the work carried out by Baker Consultants relates to EU derived law and its implementation.

From a legal point of view it is very much business as usual. The law that underpins environmental protection in the UK remains in force and must still be followed. Not to do so would instigate the same legal sanctions as before the referendum. Indeed, even when/if Article 50 is invoked EU law still applies up until the UK actually leaves the EU.

Through my work at the UK Environmental Law Association I have been very closely involved in the development and implementation of nature conservation law. In terms of the UK based work, we will keep on top of any changes to the wildlife legislation and any other changes in the law that affect our work.

For our European contracts we are exploring our options and what will be best for our continued success both in the UK and EU countries. In any event we will continue to give our clients the best service we possibly can.

If you have any questions about how the potential changes to our status with the EU may affect your projects and any ecological elements, do get in touch.

Andrew Baker FCIEEM
Managing Director