Carlos Abrahams has recently provided training in birdsong identification for the UK Acoustics Network. The workshop demonstrated how the bird population change with the seasons, and for identifying unseen birds by their acoustic signature with the use of SM4 (Song Meters). The use of SM4’s has further extended the project’s potential for identifying unseen birds by their song and their calls. The study site, Colt Park Wood, is over 400 years old and it has never undergone a systematic ecological survey. In this site the team have been able to add 13 new species of birds to the 65 noted in Warden’s diaries between 1958-1996.
As the Environment Bill progresses through its early stages in Parliament, Defra has published its economic impact assessment of the biodiversity net gain as set out in Part 6 of the bill.
The Bill sets out the government’s approach to securing net gains for biodiversity through the planning system and having considered a number of options and consulted widely on the issue, Defra has decided to opt for a mandatory tariff system using a biodiversity metric. Put simply, the government is mandating that all development (with a few exceptions) will be required, through the new bill, to secure 10% gains in biodiversity. The loss or gain must be calculated using the Defra Biodiversity Metric which is currently in its 2.0 beta form. The metric calculates the loss of biodiversity that any development may cause based on the area of habitat lost, the output expressed in ‘biodiversity units’. The metric then takes into account any mitigation measures (for example, onsite habitat creation) and gives an overall net loss or gain for the development. Where there is a net loss (and because of the way the metric works this will be the case for most developments) it will be mandatory for developers to pay a tariff to balance any deficit plus 10% of the baseline value.
Normally the impact assessment (IA) of new wildlife law amounts to a few paragraphs at the end of the bill usually stating that the economic effects of the bill are benign and of little consequence. It is therefore an indication of the potential game changing nature of the bill that this report runs to 80 pages.
The IA concludes an indicative cost of £11,000 per biodiversity unit. It is envisaged that local markets will develop for the cost of delivering biodiversity units with the administration falling to the Local Planning Authorities. The IA also concludes that the costs will be passed down to landowners and that the impact upon the development industry will be small.
The Bill was due to have its second reading on October 28th and there is of course significant doubt about how quickly the Bill will progress. However, Local Planning Authorities are already drafting policies to reflect the 10% net gain requirement and referring to the Defra metric. Baker Consultants has been using the metric on many projects recently and the spread-sheet is still full of bugs (if you are using it check the calculations very carefully). To be fair Natural England has been very quick a correcting the bugs once they have been identified.
Mandating biodiversity gain is firmly on the political agenda and if the Bill does progress further this is set to be a significant piece of legislation with far reaching consequences.
The Impact Assessment is available to download here Net Gain Impact Assessment
The political events of the last few weeks have put into sharp focus the potential for the current government to take us out of the European Union without a deal. This has prompted a number of my clients to ask me what would be the impact of ‘crashing out’ of the EU on legal processes like Habitats Regulations Assessments, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), or those associated with the protection of great crested newts or bats?
The key to answering this question is the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. This Act repeals the European Communities Act 1972 but at the same time saves the majority of EU derived domestic legislation that was in force the day before ‘exit day’ to be carried forward and continue to be in force the day after exit day. Exit day is defined under the Act and was originally set as 22nd March 2019. Of course, exit day has moved on (12th April, 22nd May, 19th, and now 31st October 2019) and with each new exit date the Act has been updated.
So, the simple answer to the question is that crashing out of the EU on 31st October will not result in any fundamental overnight changes in wildlife law as all domestic derivations of EU law will be saved. Any changes to wildlife law are likely to be long term and depend upon the agenda of whatever government is in power. A no deal Brexit will of course have major implications for the UK and my view is that any changes to wildlife law will be far down the government’s list of legislative priorities.
Biological records are an essential part of the background information used when developing an ecological assessment for a site. High quality biological records provide evidence that an animal or plant was present in a particular place at a specific time. In its simplest form each individual biological record contains four essential pieces of information: who identified the organism, the species name, where and when it was found.
Baker Consultants has a policy of submitting records as part of our commitment to best practice in ecological consultancy. This helps to support the biological records centres that form a vital part of the desk study early on in every development project. Knowing what wildlife or habitat has previously been recorded on or near to a site can help our clients put together an ecology strategy for their project, identifying impacts and the potential for biodiversity gain as required under the National Planning Policy Framework.
Records may be collected on a casual, ad hoc basis or they may be generated as part of a one-off survey or longer-term monitoring process. Collectively, they are extremely important, providing the foundation for ecological consultancy and conservation, and informing current and future projects in an area.
Baker Consultants ecologist Steve Docker has completed the MSc Biological Recording with Manchester Metropolitan University studying a range of taxa. An essential part of the learning process was the construction of keys to enable accurate species identification – and generate valid biological records for a range of species groups. Since graduating in 2017, Steve has continued to work on identification keys using the Field Studies Council (FSC) Identikit, a software tool that enables individuals to create on-line, multi-access keys. So far, Steve has collaborated with other highly experienced naturalists to produce keys to British wader species in non-breeding plumage and to British macrofungi genera.
An example of the British wader species key:
The keys are freely available to download to either a laptop or mobile phone via the FSC . Steve is now working on an Identikit key to British beetle families.
Received today specialist bat access roof tiles for a client’s roof.
The tiles provide access to roof space for protected bat species, whilst blending in seamlessly to the slate roof. They have a capped vent which allows access to roof felt (for roosting Pipistrelles) or roof space (for Serotine, Leisler’s, Daubenton’s and Barbastelle Bats).
As part of your bat mitigation measures consider designing in this facility to maintain the aesthetics of your estate buildings. Contact us for a survey.
Vacancy for an Ecologist/Digital Ecologist (£18-24k) part-time contract considered
Baker Consultants is seeking to expand its team of consultants to help deliver our project work throughout the country. We require a confident field surveyor able to work with or without supervision in a range of environments and contribute to reporting as required by the project manager.
We are also seeking an ecologist with expertise or an interest in GIS, mobile data collection, UAVs and image analysis to support and help expand our capabilities in spatial data analysis and remote sensing.
Anti-social hours are an expected aspect of this role.
- Assist in carrying out field and office work on individual contracts as indicated by the project manager. This will include direct execution of work to a high level of competence and accuracy including fieldwork and data collation.
- Work in line with the company’s policies and procedures including H&S, lone working, biosecurity, deployment and care of equipment.
- Maintain and improve your skills and knowledge base as part of continuing professional development.
You should have at least two years experience as a professional ecologist, with the technical knowledge to be able to deliver some surveys using best-practice techniques. Be able to write up field records to a high standard and have an ability to undertake basic reporting writing. An understanding of wildlife legislation is desirable.
You must be at least a graduate member of CIEEM and motivated to expand your knowledge and skills base through CPD and ‘skill sharing’ with colleagues. You will have the opportunity to develop a specialism during your career at Baker Consultants.
You will need to be self-motivated, flexible and reliable with an understanding of the professionalism required when dealing with clients whether verbally or in writing.
A full valid driving license and regular access to a car
Terms and Benefits
Full (or part-time by agreement)
Reporting to Technical Director, Carlos Abrahams
Salary commensurate with experience
25 days (or pro-rata) holiday + TOIL
Applications via CV and covering letter to email@example.com
Ecological survey requirements are well established in guidance that sets out timescale, frequency and survey methods, sometimes in lengthy detail. The JNCC, CIEEM, and Natural England publish guidance that has been developed alongside changes in policy and best practice. These methods can sometimes form part of a protected species licence application, so consistency is important. Developers engaging an ecologist to consult on and carry out the required surveys rightly expect to receive robust advice in line with statutory guidance.
However, another layer of policy exists where Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) set out the ecological survey requirements for the planning applications they receive. These expectations vary considerably between LPAs and sometimes do not match the standard national guidelines. Due to this variation there may be conflicts with the national guidance and geographical discrepancies in what surveys are required to validate a planning application. This is another aspect of planning that has become a ‘post-code lottery’.
These inconsistencies can have costly implications for developers who may commission surveys to meet LPA requirements, but then find that when external scrutiny is applied or protected species licensing is involved, additional surveys have to be done, potentially delaying the construction timetable or leading to legal challenge.
Communication between developers and LPAs is important, facilitated by a consultant ecologist, in defining the scope of works to be undertaken, and explaining what work is required and why. This will help to promote greater understanding of the differing roles and requirements of national and local guidance, and help steer a course between the two.
Baker Consultants will always recommend the most robust set of survey effort to ensure not only regulatory compliance and best practice, but also ensure that clients have a fully prepared planning application which stands up to public and legal scrutiny. The wider obligation of providing biodiversity net gain will be more easily met if the initial ecological assessments are robust.
The full article featured in CIEEM’s InPractice can be accessed by CIEEM members on its web site.
For more information on how this issue may affect your project or to request advice, please contact Carlos or another member of the team on 01629 593958 or via firstname.lastname@example.org
The now infamous ‘People Over Wind’ case (C323/17) led to a considerable shake up in the practical application of the Habitats Directive when the judgement ruled that mitigation measures cannot be taken into account at the likely significant effect (LSE) screening stage. One of the many problems it created was that much policy and guidance suddenly became out of date and needed to be rewritten. Of particular note was the presumption in favour of sustainable development set out in the National Planning Polity Framework (NPPF). The previous NPPF removed this presumption where LSE could not be ruled out. This was always problematic in my view, why remove this tilt in favour of sustainable development simply because an Appropriate Assessment is required – after all the plan or project may subsequently pass the legal tests with flying colours and no harm is caused. After People Over Wind this became even more problematic as many more projects failed the LSE test and the presumption has to be removed for many more projects even though they would subsequently pass the legal test at the AA stage.
Following consultation, para 177 of the NPPF has now been updated and reads ‘The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply where the plan or project is likely to have a significant effect on a habitats site (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects), unless an appropriate assessment has concluded that the plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of the habitats site.’
The full text of the NPPF 2019 can be found here
We are very pleased to have won Nottingham Trent Universities’ supplier award for best contribution to social value and sustainability for our work of Great Crested Newts at the Brackenhurst Campus.
The official press release reads as follows. “Baker Consultants has been working closely with NTU’s Brackenhurst Campus on its ambitious redevelopment programme to ensure biodiversity of the estate was not only protected but enhanced. Of high priority was the protection of the populations of Great Crested Newts; Brackenhurst Campus supports one of the largest and best studied populations in the county. Working with NTU, Baker Consultants was successful in obtaining a Phased European Protected Species License for the entire Brackenhurst development programme. Only a handful of phased licences have been issued across England, and this is the first of its kind for a University campus. Implementation of the licence will require collaboration and input from contractors, staff and students and NTU has committed to undertake a twenty-five year management programme. Baker Consultants will continue to work with NTU to ensure that the conditions of the licence are implemented and our biodiversity assets are protect, monitored and enhanced.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.