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Finalist Wales Green Energy Awards 2015

The 2015 Wales Green Energy Award finalists have been announced and Baker Consultants has been nominated alongside Newcastle University for a Contribution to Skills & Training award!

Our nomination relates to the research and development of bioacoustics survey skills for the monitoring of European nightjar, a species of bird often perceived as being in conflict with wind farm developments and operations. Nightjars are widespread in Wales and can be a considerable constraint to development as they receive special legal protection.

Bioacoustics and the nightjar

Traditional survey methods used to establish the presence of nightjars, a bird both elusive and cryptic in behaviour, are expensive and can necessitate walked transect surveys, tape luring surveys and radio tracking to map their distribution and nest sites.

During 2013 and 2014, we carried out research into the use of bioacoustics survey methods as an alternative to conventional methods.

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

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

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants, says: “At their basic level, bioacoustics surveys involve placing recording devices out in the field, often for extended periods, and recording animal sounds. This has many advantages over conventional surveys techniques, as a large amount of data can be gathered over an extended period of time as recording devices are left unattended for up to three months. Such data is critical, making it possible to establish whether records of nightjar are simply those passing through or those with established territories on the site.This can provide crucial information regarding whether a development gains approval. Furthermore, the costs of bioacoustics surveys are much lower than conventional methods”.

Baker Consultants also funded research by Dr Mieke Zwart as part of a joint project led by Dr Mark Whittingham of Newcastle University. The research proved that the use of bioacoustics was much more effective than established methods and was published as a peer-reviewed paper. This established the value of bioacoustics in nightjar surveying and paved the way for wider use of this cost-effective survey technique. There is also considerable potential for further development of this technique to allow a more detailed understanding of the use of a site by nightjar and other important species.

The Awards

The Wales Green Energy Awards are in their third year, and organised by RenewableUK Cymru to celebrate the success and achievements of the green energy industry in Wales. The award winners will be announced on Friday 6 November in Cardiff.

David Clubb, Director of RenewableUK Cymru, said: “We are always delighted by the quality of submissions for the Wales Green Energy Awards, and this year is no exception. Each of the shortlisted individuals or organisations should feel extremely proud of what they have achieved over the last 12 months, often in the face of challenging political and policy decisions.”

Baker Consultants and Wales

Baker Consultants has been providing ecological services to projects throughout Wales for a number of years and this year we consolidated our presence with an office in Swansea, following increased demand in the region and growth in the renewables sector. Read more in our article here.

Contact a member of our Welsh team today to discuss your project

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

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.

Bioacoustic recorders could provide us with vital additional information to help us protect rare and endangered birds, such as the European nightjar. Research, led by Newcastle University, found that newly developed remote survey techniques were twice as effective at detecting rare birds as conventional survey methods.

Using automated equipment to record nightjars at dawn and dusk, when the birds are most active, the team found a 217% increased detection rate of the nightjar over those carried out by specialist ornithologists. Published this month in the prestigious academic journal Public Library of Science One (PLOS ONE) (article available here), lead author Mieke Zwart said the findings suggest that automated technology could provide us with an important additional tool to help us survey and protect rare birds.

“The results of this research will help conservationists monitor endangered species more effectively,” explains Mieke, who carried out the research as part of her PhD, supported by Baker Consultants Ltd and Wildlife Acoustics Inc. “The European nightjar, for example, is only active at night and is very well camouflaged, making it difficult to detect using traditional survey methods. Using bioacoustics techniques we can more accurately build up a picture of where these birds are, population numbers, movement and behaviour.”

The European nightjar – Caprimulgus europaeus – is a migratory species protected under the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC) and in the UK by the classification of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Nesting on lowland heath, such as parts of Sherwood Forest and Thames Basin Heath, the nightjar can be negatively affected by developments including housing. Due to this, as part of the planning process, developers must now provide data on presence and abundance of nightjar and provide mitigation plans to prevent their disturbance before planning applications will be considered.

Traditional bird survey methods involve specialist ornithologists conducting field surveys to identify and count the birds they encounter. However, these are time-consuming, must be performed by experts, and could be inaccurate when surveying species that are difficult to detect.

Bioacoustics is the science of recording of wildlife sounds and processing that data to provide information on species numbers, movement or behaviour. Using automated audio recorders and analysis software, the technology is ‘trained’ to automatically recognise the calls of individual species, in this case the nightjar. Remote recorders were deployed at specific sites and the results were compared against observations from standard human field surveys of the same sites.

Andrew Baker, co-author of the paper, said: “This is a key piece of research that has demonstrated how effective bioacoustics techniques can be for providing ecological data. This research has challenged conventional methods and could be applied to a wide range of species to give more accurate, objective data on bird numbers and distribution. The study has implications for a range of other species, including black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and woodlark (Lullula arborea). This is especially important when information on species presence and abundance is used to inform conservation projects or development plans.”

Read more about our latest nightjar bioacoustics project here.

Source Information: “The use of automated bioacoustic recorders to replace human wildlife surveys: An example using nightjars.” Mieke C. Zwart, Andrew Baker, Philip J. K. McGowan, Mark J. Whittingham. PLOS ONE, July 16, 2014

Media Contacts:
Mieke Zwart, PhD student, School of Biology, Newcastle University. Tel: 07580 362783; email: m.c.zwart@ncl.ac.uk

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants Ltd and a co-author of the paper. Tel: 07590 122969; email:a.baker@bakerconsultants.co.uk

Louella Houldcroft, Senior Communications Manager, Newcastle University. Tel: 0191 208 5108/07989 850511; email:Louella.houldcroft@ncl.ac.uk

This work was part-funded by Wildlife Acoustics, Inc who also provided the recording devices and software to process the recordings.

Baker Consultants has recently been awarded ISO certification for ISO 9001 and 14001. Ever since its inception five years ago our willingness to innovate has been applied to our business systems as well as our technical output. This has now been formally recognised through the implementation of the ISO framework across the business.

Andrew Baker, Managing Director said, “Achieving ISO was the logical next step for us. With an increasing number of projects for multi-national clients we wanted to be able to show the outside world that our business systems meet recognised, international standards.”

Marie Jennings, Baker Consultants’ Office Manager commented “We built our ISO around the business (rather than the other way round) and it is therefore integral to the way we run the business and supports our ability to be flexible and responsive to clients needs.”

This achievement coincides with a 25% increase in in-house consultants and the reporting of an estimated year on year growth in turnover for 107% in the year ending February 2014.

 

It feels like the right thing to do to put something back from the success of Baker Consultants, so each year we donate to a charity or a project somehow connected with our locality or the ecology industry. Fresh clean water, a basic amenity for us but a precious resource nonetheless and scarce in many parts of the world seemed an appropriate cause.

We have chosen to donate to Aquabox a charity run by the Rotary Club of Wirksworth.

Aquabox was set up to assist relief agencies in disaster areas to supply safe drinking water from the existing supplies of local often contaminated water.

We chose to sponsor the AquaFilter Community box, which is a system capable of generating up to 500,000 litres of drinking water from the local contaminated water sources. This is enough basic drinking water for 100 families of 6 (600 people) for well over a year and half; over 500 tonnes of drinking water.

Aquabox

 

If you would like more information on Aquabox please click here

 

Andrew commented on an article in The Environment Analyst concerning the lack of expertise and resources within councils regarding ecology issues, meaning planning applications risk legal problems related to ecological factors.

See the link to read the full article.

Andrew was asked to contribute to a recent feature on the state of the ecological consultancy industry. The piece by Rob Bell was published online in Environment Analyst and concludes that the industry is pretty robust and appears to be “recession proof”. The pdf of the article can be seen here Ecology feature Environment Analyst sept 2013.

Our bioacoustic team has recently made a significant breakthrough in the semi-automated processing of full spectrum data, allowing a more cost-effective way of managing bat call data analysis. The success of this technique on over 1000s of hours of data, has led to us being commissioned to process data for one of the UK’s largest major infrastructure projects.

Read more

Wildlife Acoustics, the world’s leading supplier of bioacoustics monitoring systems for biologists around the world, has been selected as one of 20 finalists from a field of 204 nominated companies in the Smaller Business of New England (SBANE) 2013 Innovation award.

Click here for the full article Read more

The March issue of IEEM’s In Practice carries Andrew’s article on bioacoustics’ coming of age. It discusses the advances in bioacoustic survey technology in the terrestrial and marine environments. Rather than advocating that technology can replace the skilled professional ecologist, it suggests that the collecting of more detailed and robust data can allow the consultant to do a better job for the client and attain a more satisfactory development outcome. Read more

Are you a brilliant birder? Are you ambitious, motivated and looking for a career path that will establish you as a national expert in your chosen field ? If so, we would like to hear from you.
With an increasing workload in renewable energy and other sectors, Baker Consultants is looking for an ornithologist to join our team in Derbyshire. Read more

I had thought that 2011 would be a year of consolidation however it turned out to be one of continued expansion and forward planning. Not only did our client base increase along with turnover but we also expanded the in-house team with Carlos Abrahams joining us as Technical Director.

During 2011 we have continued to lead the industry in the practical development of bioacoustic survey techniques. Our bat specialist Paul Howden-Leach has become recognised as the UK expert in full spectrum analysis of bat recordings. While this is the technical stuff that rarely concerns our clients it means that the data collected is not only efficiently processed but it is also highly defensible in the public inquiry arena. We are now being used by other ecological consultancies to analyse the data they have collected.

The work on bioacoustics continues and we will be announcing the funding of a major research project into the use of full-spectrum sound recording for bird surveys early in the new year.

Looking forward to 2012 we are anticipating a very exciting year. With a planned expansion to the scope of Baker Consultants work, we have made two significant appointments who will lead the consultancy into an entirely new area of work and expand our geographical coverage. Keep an eye on the blog for more info’.

In 2011 we continued with our philosophy of ‘making a difference’ whether it is to our clients, our staff or the ecological profession. 2012 promises to be even more exciting.

In his Autumn Statement last week, the Chancellor George Osborne set out his views on how to improve the economy and tackle the debt crisis.
Amongst other matters, he included a few comments in relation to UK environmental legislation that have not gone down well with conservation bodies such as the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts.

 

 

The ‘Greenest Government Ever’ sets light to a Bonfire of the Directives?

In his Autumn Statement last week, the Chancellor George Osborne set out his views on how to improve the economy and tackle the debt crisis. Amongst other matters, he included a few comments in relation to UK environmental legislation that have not gone down well with conservation bodies such as the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts. In particular, the following parts of his speech have hit the headlines:

“If we burden [British businesses] with endless social and environmental goals – however worthy in their own right – then not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer.”, and

“We will make sure that gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.”

Now, some of this rhetoric (and its tone) is likely to have been included to satisfy sections of the Conservative party, but there are some actions coming out of the Autumn Statement that could make real changes to the protection currently afforded to the UK’s most important nature conservation sites. As one of those measures, Defra has been asked to conduct an in-depth review of how the EU Habitats and Birds Directives are being applied in Britain.  Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, has commented that:

“The Habitats and Birds Directives protect our rarest, most threatened habitats and species and ensure conservation interests are fully taken into account when development proposals are being considered….

The vast majority of development cases do successfully meet the Directives’ requirements but a small number raise particularly complex issues which give rise to unnecessary costs and delays. There’s also the possibility that the Directives are being used in ways for which they were not intended….

That is why I am looking forward to seeing recommendations on dealing with any overly-bureaucratic or long, drawn out examples of implementation, without compromising the current levels of environmental protection.”

The aim of this review is to reduce the burdens on business.  As well as the review of the legislation itself, Defra will also establish a troubleshooting unit to address complex projects, Natural England will be expected to provide more support for developers and industry representatives will have representation on a group chaired by Ministers so that they can raise concerns directly with Government.

This review appears to have at least some support from business, National Farmers Union and Country Landowners Association, but unsurprisingly, conservation bodies have raised immediate objections to the Government’s intention to amend, and perhaps water down, the legislation protecting designated sites.

Two letters have been published in the Observer from NGOs and well-known environmentalists such as Jonathan Porritt and Caroline Lucas, which include comments such as:

“Following the chancellor’s autumn statement, we can say that the coalition is on a path to becoming the most environmentally destructive government to hold power in this country since the modern environmental movement was born,”
and,

“The stunning disregard shown for the value of the natural environment not only flies in the face of popular opinion but goes against everything the government said in June, when it launched two major pieces of environmental policy – the natural environment white paper and the England biodiversity strategy.”

So, it’s probably fair to say the Autumn Statement proposals have received a mixed review.

But what might this mean for us as consultants and for the clients we work for?

On the one hand, developers may benefit from fewer constraints in relation to designated sites and protected species – as intended by the Government.

However, if domestic regulation was weakened to an extent where it no longer fulfilled the requirements of the ‘parent’ EU Directive, then development proposals could potentially be more easily challenged by judicial review or through recourse to the European Courts. This would increase the level of risk to developers, perhaps resulting in planning decisions being overturned or prosecutions being taken. In effect, adding complication and uncertainty to the process. A careful approach will therefore be needed to avoid any unintended consequences from changes to the law.

And do we really need to slacken the legislative burden on business from environmental regulation?  As an ecologist I would argue that the burden is not a result of the legislation per se but how the legislation is interpreted by the various Country Agencies. In so many cases we have seen demands for unnecessary survey work and claims about potential impacts that have no basis in science.  These problems will persist no matter what the legislation.

Reference sources:

DEFRA
Guardian letters