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Well, after many dull and dreary winter bird surveys almost devoid of dawn and evening choruses and birdsong of any note (except for the persistent robin of course), it’s coming towards that time of year again when us ecologists, particularly those of us with an avian disposition, sink to our knees and cry hallelujah! At last we no longer have to become entangled in unforgiving bramble thickets or jump knee deep into a muddy puddle we thought was shallow to get a glimpse in order to identify that LBJ (little brown job) that’s just tantalisingly nipped across our path and out of view……now, they will sing to us, thus negating all of the aforementioned sorry disasters.
Yes it will soon be breeding season again. All of the tit species plus goldcrest, treecreeper, nuthatch, wren, song thrush and mistle thrush are now getting in on the singing act. Woodpigeon don’t seem to have stopped mating and hardy birds such as barn owl, tawny owl and grey heron will in some cases be already nesting. To paraphrase a Shakespeare line ‘If birdsong be the food of love, sing on, give me excess of it!”

The survey season is not confined to birds of course, we’re breaking out the bat detectors and wellies in preparation for some major site work requiring bat and great crested newt surveys. If you are planning on developing a site then make sure you get advice from an ecologist to be certain your plans are compliant with wildlife legislation and policy, which is needed to get your planning permission as smoothly as possible. Also, due to some certain pesky species behaviour and ecology it is wise to do this early on in your project to prevent any unnecessary delays further down the line.  To get in touch with one of the team to plan your site surveys please email survey@bakerconsultants.co.uk

A judge has ruled that ministers had failed to follow the EU Birds Directive (2009) and planning permission should not have been granted on the Viking Wind farm in Shetland.

The whimbrel, an endangered wader that nests almost exclusively on the island, breeds only in north Scotland when in the UK. The EU birds directive is the EU’s oldest piece of nature legislation creating a comprehensive scheme of protection for all wild bird species naturally occurring in the EU. The directive recognises that habitat loss and degradation are the most serious threats to the conservation of wild birds. The way that this is implemented is often the subject of detailed public inquiry and developers need to be fully aware of their obligations under this legislation. Lady Clark of Carlton said she didn’t feel that the ministers had dealt explicitly with the legal issues arising from the directive.

The case continues.

To contact Carlos Abrahams about adhering to wildlife legislation or to conduct an ecological site assessment please email info@bakerconsultants.co.uk

Four of Scotland’s largest developers of renewable energy have teamed up with Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Government to invest in a new research fund to help better understand the interaction between wind farms and bird populations. Read more

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

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

Baker Consultants is taking part in the WildVolunteering Award, a partnership between Derby City Council, the University of Derby and WildDerby for students at the University. We have proposed a project to use electronic detectors to survey and monitor for nightjar (a bird species of high nature conservation concern).

 

The role of the student would be to receive training in the use of Wildlife Acoustics SM2 bird detectors, deploy these on a site local to Cromford, and then download and analyse the data gathered to check for recordings of nightjar song.  The project would be supported by ecologists within Baker Consultants, but the student would be expected to undertake the fieldwork independently and carry out computer analysis of the data.

Nightjars sing (churr) between mid-May and mid-August, with a peak in activity during June.  They are normally surveyed by people walking transects at dusk and dawn, while listening for the distinctive song produced by male birds.  We would like to test the use of automatic recording equipment (often used for bats) which can be programmed, placed in the field and left to record for a period of nights.  Once the survey period is complete, the electronic data is downloaded and can then be analysed using computer software to check for singing nightjars.

 

There are over 50 places on the WildVolunteering scheme open to students of Derby University. Students have the opportunity to gain valuable work experience and an insight into the biodiversity and ecology of the region.

Further details of the WildVolunteering scheme can be found at the weblink here:

http://www.derby.ac.uk/community/projects/wildvolunteering-2013

Today’s themes were Cumulative effects, Tools and technology, Mitigation and compensation and Future challenges.

Again, a huge amount of interesting and relevant information which will
immediately be put into practice. Our approach to ecology for wind farm
developments is going to get a right good shake up next week! I’m not
going to go through all the good stuff about measuring and adjusting for
impact, and associated stats – that’s not for this forum, I am going to
take a philosophical direction tonight.

Scott Cole from the Centre for Environment and Resource Economics at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences is an Environmental Economist. His presentation on how to realistically measure the credits and debits of ecology impacts and was exceptionally useful. But one part of his presentation threw up an interesting idea, something to mull over on a long train journey.

He suggested that the application of compensatory measures for wildlife is an issue of human psychology.

First up, I will not assume that you know what “compensation” is. It is a measure that is applied when a negative impact has been identified and after avoidance and mitigation measures have been applied but where there remains an unacceptable residual impact. Makes sense?

Here is an example, say that at a wind farm we know that 300 birds will be killed as a result of flying into moving turbine blades. An avoidance measure could be to identify which turbine is causing the majority of these deaths and take it out of the plan. A mitigation measure might be to paint the remaining turbines so that birds can see them better and fly round. Lets say that these two measures avoid 250 collisions but we are still not happy with the remaining 50 collisions. A compensatory measure could then be applied – for example getting hold of a poor piece of habitat near to our site and making it irresistible to the birds, the plan being that they will become too happy over there to bother with the wind farm any more.

So what’s the problem? Compensation takes time, the habitat has to establish and it will take further time for the birds to move over there even when it is in good condition. So although avoidance and mitigation measures are in place the population will continue to fall at a rate of 50 birds a year. When the birds eventually do move to the compensation site it may take many years to replace the 50 per annum lost during this interim.

Do the birds care about this? No. We don’t ask them. Its people who care about this and a basic thing that all economists and psychologists know is that we do not like to wait for anything and especially not for an identified problem to be fixed. Scott asked, if these birds were white-tailed sea eagles would we rather have 300 tomorrow or 100 in 2035 and 300 in 2050?

Scott argued that compensation is an anthropocentric requirement, the need is not for the birds it is with us. And if it is for us, how much are we prepared to “pay” to have it now?

Something to ponder, eh?

Susan reports on day two of the Wind Energy and Wildlife Impacts conference in Norway.

The sessions today were: species-specific vulnerabilities and population
effects, behavioural and spatial responses, collision risk modelling
and Methods and statistics.

Day two – Susan writes: The sessions today were: species-specific vulnerabilities and population effects, behavioural and spatial responses, collision risk modelling and Methods and statistics.

Thomas Kunz
, University of Boston (incidentally who Kelly and I know well as we referenced his work extensively in both our undergraduate dissertations) is an engaging speaker who presented his case for a new scientific discipline – aeroecology.  This unites those studying birds, bats and insects but also biologists looking at organisms that exploit passive flight, such as pollen, spores and bacteria. Importantly this discipline also includes non-ecology scientists working in this three dimensional environment – meteorologists, climate scientists, geographers and medicine (public health) to name a few.

Among many interesting demonstrations, his work to use the US network of doppler radar stations to study bats was inspiring.  This technology is most familiar to us when seen on TV weather reports and forecasts, to supply these images meteorologists have to filter out the non-weather clutter first, and some of this clutter is biological information. Dr Kunz’s work is to retrieve this discarded clutter from the virtual bin and analyse it.

His video of the “clouds” of bats emerging from roosting caves in Texas and New Mexico and travelling across south and central US was phenomenal.  There are so many applications for this, for aeroecologists, we might soon be able to view in real time the movements of flocks of birds or bats and be able to react before collision or significant displacement effects occur.

There is some very interesting work going on in Germany at wind farms more like those that we have in lowland UK – for example sited within intensively managed farmland and with species that we encounter here.  The 7 year BACI (Before After Control Impact) by Marc Reichenbach is finding much lower disturbance distances in farmland birds than in previous published research from different environments.  His work is providing the evidence that we need to support what most of us already suspected – bird behaviours (including breeding, roosting and resting) are much more influenced by the cropping regime within the wind farm than the presence or operation of the turbines.

After Tuesday’s discovery of “vulture restaurants” (which must always be pronounced in a Spanish accent) today I learned about a technique for minimising the disturbance effects to harbour porpoise when pile driving in the construction phase of off-shore wind turbines – “bubble curtains”. I need to get myself some of those!

In the evening we went out of the city into the snowy birch forest and around the frozen lakes to see beavers, some very impressive dams and lodges. It was a brilliant trip and I now have a huge fascination for these animals. I should say though that on the way out I was sat with an Aussie and a Kiwi who were completely overwhelmed with joy at seeing a road sign that said “farthumper” (pictured)!

See tomorrow for a picture of myself and Fiona Matthews in a beaver swamp.