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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

Our Technical Director, Carlos Abrahams, has a long-standing research interest in wetland ecology. His particular area of expertise covers the ecology of wetlands that have fluctuating water-levels, such as reservoirs and temporary ponds. Read more

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

Carlos Abrahams, our Technical Director, has recently contributed two chapters to a new ecological encyclopedia.

“Biomes and Ecosystems: An Encyclopedia” is about to be published by Salem Press and will illustrate the biology, geography, history and ecological importance of natural areas around the world. Carlos has written chapters on the Dee Estuary and Humber Estuary for the encyclopedia, both of which are internationally important sites for coastal birds, as well as being the locations of major ports and industry.

The reference work covers the broad scope of biomes and ecosystems around the world, from puddles on the street to coral reefs in Australia to rain forests in Brazil to the tundra in Siberia. Each article delves  into the properties that make the subject a biome or ecosystem, and how those features work together. The work introduces readers to hundreds of specific species of fauna and flora found in ecosystems ranging from relatively pristine atolls to recognised environmental catastrophes. It goes beyond description of these species to show how they interact with each other and with their environment, and how human activities have affected them over time. Many species endemic to unique ecosystems, such as the freshwater seals of Lake Baikal, which are found hundreds of miles from any ocean, are covered along with invasive species that affect native fauna and flora, such as the crown-of-thorns starfish and the zebra mussel. Endangered animals are featured in the context of the environmental problems specific to their biomes, and include Australia’s night parrot, the Siamese crocodile, and the Amur leopard. Conservation success stories, such as the return of sustainable population of black robins to the Chatham Islands in the Pacific, are accompanied by detailed, up-to-date information on national parks, marine sanctuaries, wildlife refuges around the world, and their management.

The encyclopedia will be available in printed and electronic forms and is available to order here

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

Back in 2007, the Bat Conservation Trust published the first edition of ‘Bat Surveys: Good Practice Guidelines’, with the aim to provide some clarity on the different types of survey and survey effort needed to provide appropriate information for ecological assessments. Since 2007, new developments in equipment, methods, and legislation have meant that revision of the bat survey guidelines is needed.

The practical implementation of bat conservation has evolved and expanded, with a greater number of individuals undertaking professional bat work.

The second edition of the guidelines has just been released. This updated version provides improved guidance for those commissioning, undertaking or reviewing bat surveys throughout the UK. It is intended to enhance the standard and consistency of bat surveys and reports and ultimately lead to greater understanding of bats and improvements in their protection and conservation.

The BCT has set out to strengthen the focus on professional bat work within the guidance, both for those undertaking the work, and to include more details for planners assessing surveys. This edition also takes account of changes in technology, and the importance of selecting the right equipment to meet the survey aims and being clear about the limitations of different techniques.

As with any generic guidance though, the interpretation and implementation of case-by-case best practice is still very much down to trained and experienced ecologists, such as those at Baker Consultants. The BCT makes this clear in its introduction, stating that “there is no substitute for knowledge and experience in survey planning, methodology and interpretation of findings, and these guidelines are intended to support these”.

To commission a survey or site assessment, or if you’re an ecologist with too much data to analyse during the busy season give us a call on: 01629 593958

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

In a very short period of time the SM2BAT from Wildlife Acoustics has become
recognised as an industry-standard remote bat detector and is widely
used by consultants, universities and researchers.

Superior field equipment that records more calls brings with it the challenge of larger volumes of data to analyse.

Baker Consultants is now able to offer a full data processing service to assist in the analysis of bat survey field recordings. Using our library of bat call ‘recognisers’ our experienced bat ecologists can
provide a cost-effective, independent analysis of SM2 recordings.

Outputs
We will provide a detailed analysis of the data, using Songscope software, and provide the following information from each recording session:

•    A summary spreadsheet of the data including a confirmed species list.
•    A list highlighting calls which are dubious or inadequately recorded.
•    Measured call parameters will be provided for calls of rare species.
•    A date and time-indexed spreadsheet of all identifiable calls.

Benefits
•    Rapid, cost effective analysis using the SM2 native software, Songscope.
•    Full spectrum analysis capturing a greater number of calls.
•    Independent verification avoiding any charge of bias.
•    Data remains confidential and site anonymous.
•    Time and cost savings.

Please contact Carlos Abrahams if you would like more details of this service or email sm2@bakerconsulants.co.uk

Technical director Carlos Abrahams recently visited the House of Lords
for the presentation of the 2011 Institute of Ecology and Environmental
Management Medal to Mr Pavan Sukhdev.

Pavan is a global authority on Environmental Economics, was  Project Leader for UNEP’s ‘Green Economy’ initiative and  appointed as Study Leader for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study. This work was jointly instigated by the IUCN, the United Nations Development Programme and the European Commission DG Environment. It was heralded as doing for nature conservation what the IPCC report had achieved in raising economic awareness of climate change.

You can find out more at www.teebweb.org.

The meeting was also a good opportunity to catch up with a number of old friends and colleagues and enjoy the view from the Houses of Parliament riverside terrace across the Thames towards the South Bank (see photo).

CarlosCanoeFeatureBaker Consultants appoints a new technical director

As the planned expansion of the business continues (end of year results reported an increase in turnover of 90%), Baker Consultants can announce that the core team is to be expanded by the appointment of Carlos Abrahams.

Carlos will join the management team later this month and take up the post of Technical Director. Formally a senior consultant at URS, Carlos is considered to be one of the industry’s leading figures with over 20 years’ professional experience. An ecologist in the true sense of the word, he has a broad range of skills as well as a research interest in “draw-down” zones and is currently working towards a PhD through publication.