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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.

From once being the most common species of owl in the UK, barn owls (Tyto alba) have undergone a long-term decline in numbers. This has mirrored the increase in agricultural intensity and landscape development, which has led in turn to a loss of roost and nesting sites and a reduction in the numbers of small mammals they feed on. These factors, coupled with persecution, the increase in road traffic and other urban hazards, have led to the breeding numbers of barn owl falling from an estimated 12,000 pairs in 1933, to approximately 4,000 breeding pairs today.

The number of breeding barn owls appears to fluctuate year on year, but encouragingly, the overall trend in recent years is for their population decline to be levelling off. Despite the apparent halt in the steep decline in their numbers, their population remains vulnerable to the aforementioned threats. This highlights the importance of undertaking targeted barn owl surveys on potential development sites that hold favourable breeding, roosting or feeding habitat.

Legislation

Barn owls are given protection against killing, injury or capture under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), with nests given further protection against disturbance under Schedule 1 of the same act. Developers therefore should be mindful of undertaking targeted barn owl surveys at sites holding favourable barn owl breeding/roosting habitat, to avoid potentially committing a legal offence.

Favoured Habitat

Barn owls use a variety of roost and nest locations in natural environments such as tree hollows, rock crevices and sea cliffs and man-made structures, such as those found in agricultural, industrial and domestic settings. They favour rough, tussocky grassland when hunting their preferred prey of small mammals.

Breeding Ecology

Barn owls have been known to breed in every month of the year but the usual breeding months are March to August, with peak breeding taking place between April and June.  One in ten pairs will then produce a second brood later in the summer. The four to six eggs usually hatch after a calendar month, with the young fledging between eight and ten weeks old.

Barn Owl Survey

Barn owl surveys are usually requested in relation to planning applications to convert or remove buildings located in rural surroundings. An ecologist has to hold a Class Survey Licence issued by Natural England, if they are to provide a thorough investigation of a site and fully establish the presence and status of barn owls.

After an initial desk study to obtain records of barn owls for the surrounding area, a site visit is undertaken to identify any signs that barn owl are using (or have previously used) the site for roosting or nesting. Signs of barn owl presence on a site include pellets, feathers and droppings, as well as nest debris, eggs and carcasses (of owls or prey).

Mitigation

If a barn owl nest and/or roost site has to be disturbed or destroyed, alternative nesting or roosting provision must be provided, ideally within the structure being renovated, or if the current structure is to be demolished, within a replacement structure. If this is not possible, specially designed artificial nest/roost boxes should be positioned alongside and facing suitable rough grassland habitats, away from hazards such as busy roads and tall structures.

Artificial boxes should ideally be positioned outside the usual nesting months over the autumn/winter period.

Baker Consultants Barn Owl Surveys

Baker Consultants has two ecologists that hold the Class Licence for barn owls, following intensive training by the Barn Owl Trust and demonstrating their competence  in undertaking barn owl surveys.

The numbers of breeding bird species in the UK vary year on year, but well over 200 species are known to regularly breed here. Bird species known to regularly occur in the UK are periodically assessed through a collaboration of the UK’s leading governmental and non-governmental conservation organisations. The most recent 2015 review used a range of criteria to place a total of 244 regularly occurring UK species onto one of three lists:

  • 27.5% of species were listed as Red (those with the most rapidly declining populations). This is up from the 21% listed in the previous review in 2009.
  • 39.3% were listed as Amber (populations declining at a slower rate). This is down from 51% in 2009.
  • 33.2% were listed as Green (populations stable or increasing). This is up from 28% in 2009.

A total of 67 species are now on the Red list, up considerably from the 40 species that were on the list in 2002.

A similar collaboration of the UK’s conservation organisations reported in 2012 that there had been an estimated 44 million reduction in the number of breeding birds in the UK since 1966. These figures highlight the problems many bird species face in a rapidly changing environment and emphasises the need for accurate and effective surveys to assess and eventually inform advice to offset or avoid any potential adverse effects that vulnerable bird species may suffer as a result of a development. This is not only important for the UK but can be of international importance, particularly as the UK holds internationally significant numbers of many species of birds.

Protection for breeding birds

All UK nesting birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) 1981, which makes it an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird or take, damage or destroy its nest whilst in use or being built, or take or destroy its eggs.

Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 places a duty on every public authority to have regard to conserving biodiversity and requires that the Secretary of State must publish a list of the living organisms and types of habitats which are of principal importance for the purpose of biodiversity. The Secretary of State must take steps to further the conservation of those living organisms in any list published under this section. A number of bird species are listed as Species of Principal Importance (SPI) and therefore protected under the provisions of the Act. Species of Principal Importance are a material consideration for a Local Planning Authority in the exercise of its duties. There are 49 bird Species of Principal Importance in England and 51 in Wales (listed under Section 42 of the NERC Act). A similar number of bird species are protected under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

When do I need a breeding bird survey?

Where habitats that could support breeding birds will be affected by a development, a breeding bird survey will be necessary. These habitats could be features such as woodland, hedgerows, barns/buildings, ponds or grassland.

What is a breeding bird survey?

Surveys for breeding birds normally involve an experienced ecologist visiting the site at least three times between April and June. A transect is walked around the site which includes all the habitats previously identified and the area which is to be developed. Bird species and their behaviour are mapped and an assessment is made of the significance of the species present and an estimate of the number of breeding territories.

This information can be used to design mitigation to avoid or reduce adverse impacts on breeding birds and to compensate for any loss of habitat.

Why Baker Consultants?

Baker Consultants have a number of ecologists that have years of experience and knowledge in conducting breeding bird surveys, as well as whole range of other types of bird survey. For general information on our bird survey expertise, visit our bird surveys page where you can listen to Carlos Abrahams, our Technical Director, discussing a typical bird survey, or read our pages on wetland bird surveys and winter bird surveys.

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.

 

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

 

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

Since 2011, we have conducted detailed bird surveys and assessment to support a proposed development site in East Yorkshire on behalf of Associated British Ports. Our regular monitoring and consistently applied, robust methodology enabled us to amass a dataset that was used to fully assess the impacts of a potential development. This culminated in planning consent being granted and the creation of an impact avoidance set, which Baker Consultants is now monitoring.

Ecologist Steve Docker carrying out a bird survey

Ecologist Steve Docker carrying out a bird survey

Our expertise was required, as the development site is in close proximity to the Humber Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA), designated for its important populations of wintering species such as bar-tailed godwit and golden plover and migratory species such as knot and dunlin. Important populations of avocet, marsh harrier, little tern and bittern are also supported in the breeding season.

Baker Consultants has been carrying out surveys of migratory and wintering bird species at the development site. To ensure use of methods suitable for the specific requirements of the assessment, the survey protocol was designed as an adaptation of the British Trust for Ornithology high tide counts bird survey.

Laura Morrish, Projects Manager at Associated British Ports said: “Baker Consultants has been undertaking regular bird surveys for approximately five years across a wide area of ABP owned land in Hull in order to provide baseline data information for Environmental Impact Assessments and to allow for the preparation of annual monitoring reports of impact avoidance sites.  We have developed an excellent working relationship with the team.”

Our expertise

Baker Consultants have significant in-house expertise in the full range of bird surveys. For more information on our bird survey expertise read our pages on breeding bird surveyswetland bird surveys and winter bird surveys.

 

Read our full Associated British Ports case study here.

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

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The video below shows our Technical Director Carlos Abrahams assessing a tree for its potential to support bat roosts and searching for evidence of roosting bats. It demonstrates the climbing ability and strength our ecologists need for this type of survey!

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

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

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

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

The evidence

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

Location of curlew eggs

Location of curlew eggs

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

Four unhatched curlew eggs

Four unhatched curlew eggs

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

Curlew egg shell remains

Curlew egg shell remains

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

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

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

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

Moorland in snow

Moorland in snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Jane attended the Scottish Windfarm Bird Steering Group (SWBSG) Event last week on developing good practice for wind farms alongside birds.

The SWBSG is made up of representatives from the Scottish Government, SNH, Scottish Renewables and RSPB Scotland. The group is working to develop a common understanding of the issues relating to impacts of onshore wind turbines on birds. In particular they are involved in developing a data catalogue through partnership with developers as the foundation for their research programme.

The workshop provided a great opportunity to hear presentations on the latest SWBSG commissioned research and to contribute to future Best Practice Guidance being proposed by the group.

Dr Jeroen Minderman of the University of Stirling presented a study into the efficacy of bird survey methodologies (with a focus on Brown and Shepherd and flight activity surveys) in detecting change in bird populations pre and post construction. The research attempts to produce a model to assess survey power in order to provide a more robust statistical analysis of bird survey results. The model takes into account such parameters such as detectability with distance (based on species), number of surveys and variation in surveyor.

Similarly, researchers from Newcastle University have been looking into observer error in flight activity surveys and found a large variation between surveyors was detected at distances of only 164m. Current guidelines (SNH 2013) recommend surveyors can survey airspace up to 2km away. An overview of habitat management on Scottish onshore windfarm sites was also presented to form the basis of discussion into best practice management for wind farm sites.

Workshops in the afternoon generated lively discussion into issues which would be included in the proposed Best Practice Guidelines – including cumulative impact assessment, habitat management and the guidance itself in terms of it’s scope and content. Developers and consultants were encouraged to become involved with the SWBSG either through the provision of funding, data sharing or through consultation on the Best Practice Guidelines.

To contact one of the Baker Consultants ornithology team please email survey@bakerconsultants.co.uk or for specific Scotland enquiries contact Jane Forrest on scotland@bakerconsultants.co.uk

For more information on the group, email Claire Lacy, Data and Research Coordinator at SWBSG, at info@swbsg.org