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Carlos Abrahams article on Data Information and Management in relation to bird bioacoustic surveys has been published in the December issue of In Practice.

Bioacoustic surveys can be used to capture useful and robust data on bird vocalisations to inform studies on avian distribution and ecology. However, currently there are no recognised standard methods for their use in the UK. This article sets out a draft protocol for testing and adoption, and invites feedback from CIEEM members to further develop good practice.

Below is an extract from the article:

 

To read the full article, or for further information please contact Carlos directly at c.abrahams@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

Baker Consultants support an active programme of research aimed at improving ecological survey and analysis techniques.  Working in collaboration with a Nottinghamshire based ringing group and using Wildlife Acoustics unattended acoustic recording devices (ARDs), Ecologist Steve Docker is researching male European nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus bioacoustics. Read more

Each year, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) presents a series of awards to celebrate achievements of both the profession and of individual practitioners working within the ecological and environmental management sector.

The Innovation Award sets out to recognise a successful organisation demonstrating a novel approach to professional practice in any aspect of ecology and environmental management. The award also recognises those who are delivering sustainable benefits for society. Our nomination relates to the research and development of bioacoustics survey skills for the monitoring of western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus).

The Project:

The species the project focused on, western capercaillie and European nightjar, are cryptic species of conservation concern, sensitive to anthropogenic disturbance. The project demonstrated that bird bioacoustics results in increased species detection and financial savings related to reduced survey time, whilst providing a more quantitative assessment of the numbers of breeding nightjar pairs. The applications extend further, providing a minimally intrusive means of measuring nightjar breeding pair numbers at site level, or as part of a national census. This is particularly crucial for nightjars as conventional survey methods may be under-recording this species, conversely, the use of ‘churring’ can lead to over-estimated numbers of breeding pairs. Taken together, this results in serious implications for the conservation of nightjars, which are declining in both numbers and range.

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

The second stage of the project focusing on capercaillie lek activity was also hugely successful, readily recognising vocalisations using unsupervised software verified by manual analysis, despite challenges due to other bird species and environmental noise. Scottish capercaillie populations are at a critically low level, with the reasons for their decline being complex and not fully understood. This research has the capability of dramatically improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of conventional lek surveys. Previously unmonitored areas can now be feasibly surveyed, and high-quality long-term data can be interrogated for seasonal trends. Results also importantly indicated that traditional lek surveys can in fact cause disturbance to the birds at the lek. Baker Consultants aim to continue using bioacoustics to further aid the spatial and temporal monitoring of capercaillie to benefit conservation management efforts.

Capercaille lek showing the two key phrases

Baker Consultants intention for the work is to prove the applicability of bioacoustic methods and increase adoption by conservation bodies and ecological consultancies, which have not yet taken on the practical applications of this valuable tool. This work has been done entirely on a pro-bono basis, principally with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage.  Presently, two peer-reviewed papers have been published and made freely available, with more currently in production. Additionally, the UK’s first workshop on bird bioacoustics has been successfully organised, with over 40 participants contributing to the development of a draft bioacoustics survey protocol.  This is to be submitted for publication to CIEEMs In Practice soon, to widen awareness of the method, and gain additional feedback from the wider community.

 

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.

 

Baker Consultants, alongside Wildlife Acoustics and Nottingham Trent University, recently organised a national workshop meeting on Bird Bioacoustics.  This was attended by 40 delegates from the consultancy, academic and conservation sectors, who discussed the use of acoustic recording methods for bird survey and monitoring.   The technology and techniques for recording bird songs and calls in the field have developed rapidly in recent years, and can offer improved data and greater coverage than traditional survey methods. The workshop aimed to address this, highlighting the significant benefits and starting the communication of important principles and best practice guidance between professionals.

As part of the output from the workshop, the speakers have kindly allowed their presentations to be made available.  These can be accessed using the links below:

Carlos Abrahams Bird Bioacoustics

Rich Beason Bird Bioacoustics

Paul Howden-Leach Bird Bioacoustics

Amy Leedale Bird Bioacoustics

Stuart Newson Bird Bioacoustics

Paul White Bird Bioacoustics

 

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

Nottinghamshire Bat Group has recently been undertaking research on the rare barbastelle bat.

Read more

A recent academic paper on automated classifiers (‘The use of automated identification of bat echolocation calls in acoustic monitoring: A cautionary note for a sound analysis‘) highlights the importance of a key part of our bat call identification method: manual checking of automated classifiers’ results.

All bats and their roosts are protected from harm and disturbance at all times by EU and UK law, and their foraging habitats also receive some protection within the planning system. Licensed professionals, such as ourselves, carry out a range of bat surveys at sites varying from large housing developments to the removal of individual trees or buildings. These surveys are a legal requirement and integral to planning permission submissions.

Spectrogram showing pipistrelle bat call

Spectrogram showing pipistrelle bat call

A useful tool to support surveys of bats is the use of automated classifiers. These analyse and attempt to recognise bat calls from recordings made by detectors such as SM2+s, and can provide an indication of the likely species. However, as the recent publication by Russo and Voight (2016) demonstrates, “no classifier has yet proven capable of providing correct classifications in 100% of cases or getting close enough to this ideal performance”.

Because of this, at Baker Consultants, our bat experts manually check each call following the use of automated classifiers to ensure accuracy. Automated classifiers remain an extremely useful tool when surveying bats, which are by their nature nocturnal, elusive and often cryptic, but, as this research shows, expert opinion is still needed to validate the results.

Read more about our bat survey capabilities here.

Following the announcement of our latest marine contract win to provide underwater noise and marine mammal activity monitoring during construction of Wikinger offshore wind farm, our Managing Director Andrew Baker has discussed his views on the importance of the UK remaining in the EU. This has been published by Scottish Energy News and is reproduced below.

Snapshot of Scottish Energy News piece, reproduced below

Snapshot of Scottish Energy News piece, reproduced below

Scottish Energy News article

Ecological consultancy Baker Consultants recently announced the award of its latest significant European contract for Iberdrola on the Wikinger offshore wind farm. 

Here Managing Director Andrew Baker – one of the UK’s experts in nature conservation law – discusses the UK membership of the EU and the possible threat that the UK leaving the EU might bring for the renewable energy sector.

By ANDREW BAKER

I strongly believe that the UK must remain within the European Union. Not only is our membership of the EU good for business, it also benefits the environment.

As a company, we trade internationally with companies based in other EU countries. In particular, the marine side of our business is very active in German waters both in the North Sea and the Baltic.

Our latest project will see us providing an underwater noise and marine mammal activity monitoring service during the construction phase of the Wikinger offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea. We will also monitor underwater noise emissions as well as the activity of harbour porpoises that may be present within and around the wind farm during piling operations.

As contracts such as this typically account for up to half of our group’s turnover, a figure that is expected to increase in the future, the UK’s membership of the EU is extremely important to our business.

While at present we have a very good working relationship with our EU customers, this would clearly be threatened if the UK were to leave the EU, as we would no longer have the level playing field that the EU enshrines in law.

In addition, the benefits of EU membership for the environment must not be underestimated. The environmental profession is now starting to contemplate the implications of a potential UK exit from the EU.

A British ‘yes’ to quit the EU is likely to have a disproportionate impact upon the ecology profession, not only because of the likely economic turmoil that would ensue, but also the considerable impact that it would have on the regulatory framework.

Much of the law that protects wildlife in the UK has its origin in European directives, such as the Habitats and Birds Directives (collectively known as the ‘Nature Directives’), Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

If the UK were to leave the EU, this would throw our environmental legislation into disarray, potentially leading to years of legal wrangling while the UK decides what legislation should be reinvented and what should be dropped.

The Nature Directives have recently been the subject of an EU Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) process, a rolling programme to keep the entire stock of EU legislation under review. They were given an overwhelming clean bill of health. The public consultation received over half a million responses, more than any other consultation, of which the vast majority were supportive.

Rory Stewart (DEFRA Parliamentary Under-Secretary) was very supportive of the Directives, stating, “The UK, like other Member States, does not want to renegotiate the Nature Directives”.

However, as someone who is familiar with the practical side of implementing EU Directives, I have often been critical of the UK’s approach. The law is never perfect, but I am of the opinion that the majority of the problems we have with the Nature Directives are as a result of domestic implementation, rather than a fault of the Directives per se.

I am active in the campaign to stay in the EU. As a member of the UK Environmental Law Association’s nature conservation working group, I have been involved in assessing the potential impact on nature conservation of the UK leaving the EU. I represented the ecology profession at a recent All Party Parliamentary Group on Biodiversity meeting to discuss the review of the Habitat and Birds Directives.

During this meeting, I stressed my views of the importance of retaining both these directives as well as continuing the UK’s membership of the EU.

We are very proud that Baker Consultants is an exporter to our EU partners, however I am very concerned that if the UK were to leave the EU this would be a serious threat to this aspect of our business.

If this does happen, we would have no choice but to move our business to a country that remains in the EU, whether it be on the continent or another country within a devolved United Kingdom.

We are already looking into contingency plans.

About Andrew

Andrew Baker was recently awarded a fellowship by his professional body – the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. He is also an active member of the UK Environmental Law Association.

Andrew Baker, Managing Director and founder of Baker Consultants, has been made a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM).

In elevating Andrew to being a Fellow, CIEEM cited his outstanding contribution in the development and interpretation of nature conservation law, and his contribution to advancing the use of bioacoustics as an ecological surveying and monitoring tool.

Andrew Baker receiving his Fellowship award from John Box, then-President of CIEEM. Photo by CIEEM

Andrew Baker receiving his Fellowship award from John Box, then-President of CIEEM. Photo by CIEEM

With almost three decades of professional experience, Andrew has a particular interest in the law, and he has been very active in this area through his work with the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA), teaching and frequent publications. This expertise is valued highly by our clients and he is a veteran of many public inquiries where his knowledge of the subject is critical.

Contact us today to discuss your project.

Five of our ecologists contributed to a Nathusius’ pipistrelle (Pipistrellus nathusii) research project that featured on The One Show on BBC1 as part of the film Bats Without Borders by Icon Films! Our Senior Ecologist Matt Cook led the project for Nottinghamshire and Rutland Water and four of our other ecologists, Courtenay HoldenKatie Watson, Rich Hall and Kelly Clark have also been involved.

Background to the project

After a Nathusius’ pipistrelle was found to have migrated from Great Britain to the Dutch coast in 2013, scientists’ previously held assumption that British bats were unable to migrate across the North Sea was challenged. Bats Without Borders set out to find out whether some of the UK’s bats were migratory and if it was possible for a bat weighing only seven grams to cross the English Channel or the North Sea.

Bats Without Borders poster

Bats Without Borders poster

Several bat groups were involved in the Bat Conservation Trust and University of Exeter study, including Nottinghamshire Bat Group, for which Matt is project co-ordinator. Matt led the project for Nottinghamshire and Rutland Water, overseeing the catching of 46 Nathusius’ pipistrelles so far. These bats have all been adult males, with five recaptures from within Nottinghamshire and at Rutland Water, one of which has actually ‘migrated’ over 10km along the River Trent. The project group hope to catch a breeding female, which they hope to radio-track back to a roost. This would be an important piece of research, as there are currently no known active roosts on mainland Great Britain. Two to three more maternity roosts were discovered this summer, but none of any notable numbers.

About Nathusius’ pipistrelles

The Nathusius’ pipistrelles are associated with freshwater habitats, mainly large water bodies, and their diet largely consists of medium-sized flying insects such as aquatic flies, midges (particularly non-biting midges), mosquitoes and caddis flies. They feed by aerial hawking, meaning they pursue and catch their prey in flight. In comparison to other pipistrelles, they typically fly higher, faster and further, and have distinctive social and advertisement calls. They typically weigh between six and 13 grams.

Nathusius' pipistrelles. Photos by Jon Russ

Nathusius’ pipistrelles. Photos by Jon Russ

Distribution-wise, Nathusius’ pipistrelles occur across mainland Europe, generally migrating north-east to south-west in autumn. They were first recorded in the UK in the 1940s in Shetland and were considered only a migrant visitor to the UK until the 1990s, when a small number of mating and maternity colonies were found. Overall, they are considered widespread, although uncommon. Less than ten mainland Great Britain maternity roosts have been recorded and none have been found to be active since 2012 (the last roost was in Kent). This means there are no major hibernation sites.

There is still much that is unknown about Nathusius’ pipistrelles in the UK, including the nature of their movements in and out of the UK, their migration routes and origins, their population status and their distribution. We hope that the research Matt, Courtenay and Katie have been involved in provides an important stepping-stone to better understanding the behaviour of this fascinating species.

The full results from the stable isotope analysis of the discreet fur samples taken from the bats caught in 2014 are due very soon. However, the preliminary results suggest that most of the Nathusius’ pipistrelles are likely to have moved quite significant distances.

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

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.

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.

Emma Checkley, ecology intern at Baker Consultants, has recently spent a month with the Global White Lion Protection Trust in South Africa. She has been recording lion vocalisations as part of her research into leonine communication. The recordings will be used to build a bioacoustic profile of the African lion (Panthera leo). It is hoped that this profile will result in the creation of a pioneering non-invasive method of monitoring lion populations. With only around 3,100 wild lions left in South Africa, it is a crucial time to implement innovative conservation measures to ensure their survival. This is an exciting project carried out on opposite sides of the world to protect an iconic species.

Matseing, adult male white lion of the Tsau pride

Matseing, adult male white lion of the Tsau pride

The Global White Lion Protection Trust has reintroduced white lions into their endemic habitat of Timbavati, South Africa, where they had previously been extinct in the wild for over a decade. The white lions are a genetic rarity, bringing valuable genetic diversity to the Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere; an area in which lions are at serious risk of a population crash. The white lions also have immense cultural and spiritual significance, with long-standing legends of white lions existing in the oral knowledge of the high priests of Africa for over 400 years. Linda Tucker (CEO) and Jason Turner (head lion ecologist) at the Global White Lion Protection Trust have supported Emma’s research.

“The reintroduction of the white lions back in their endemic range represents a critical landmark in conservation history” – Dr Ian Player, late Patron of the Global White Lion Protection Trust

Bioacoustic recording equipment with the Akeru pride. Photo by Neil Bone

Bioacoustic recording equipment with the Akeru pride. Photo by Neil Bone

Emma joined Baker Consultants in October 2014, mid-way through her studies in Wildlife Conservation at Nottingham Trent University. She has been assisting senior ecologists with their work in the office and in the field.

She has also been responsible for building a new technological app, which will be used during future wildlife and habitat surveys. The bioacoustics team at Baker Consultants have supported Emma with her study, with skills gained analysing bat calls in the UK being applied to lion roars in the African bush veld. For further information, please contact echeckley123@hotmail.co.uk