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Our principal ecologist, Barry Wright, recently led two field training workshops for the Yorkshire and Humberside branch of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Managment (CIEEM). Taking place near Wetherby at the begining of March, the workshops were devised to help CIEEM members to identify tree and shrub species in winter, including studying twigs from 19 different species, and learn the methods available for surveying hedgerows.

As well as describing existing survey methods, Barry also gave a demonstration of his own survey method, HEDGES (Hedgerow Ecological Description, Grading and Evaluation System). This is based on Barry’s own research, can be tailored to individual project needs and enables more hedgerow information to be gathered. As well as being a principal ecologist at Baker Consultants, Barry is currently completing his research for a PhD at Sheffield Hallam University in the study of hedgerows and the species that can indicate their origins and age.

Winter hedgerow

Winter hedgerow

An assessment of the ‘importance’ of a hedgerow under the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 can be required at any time of year, but surveying hedgerows in winter can be a cold, wet and daunting task especially with no leaves in the trees and bushes to make identification easier. This increases the importance for ecologists in having skills in winter tree and shrub species identification. If ecological surveys miss hedgerow species due to ecologists being unable to correctly identify trees and shrubs during winter, this could lead to the removal of a hedgerow incorrectly deemed not to meet the minimum criteria of woody species presence.

Despite these problems, surveying hedgerows in winter has its benefits. Without leaves to get in the way, it is easier to see the structure of a hedge, such as evidence of laying, and ground flora is more clearly visible. This is beneficial, as woodland ground flora species like Bluebell, Dog’s Mercury and Lords-and-Ladies can add to the scoring for a hedgerow to be assessed as ‘important’ under the regulations. Ground flora species such as these and Ivy are often hidden under foliage in summer, unless there is vigorous growth emerging on the outside of a hedge.

Barry Wright, principal ecologist at Baker Consultants, surveying hedgerows

Barry Wright, principal ecologist at Baker Consultants, surveying hedgerows

Even if winter surveying of a hedgerow is not specifically required, carrying out a winter survey is still desirable, so as to complete the picture following a summer survey to record the frequency and abundance of trees and shrubs along the hedge.

We’re really proud that our ‘otter hero’, Ecologist Steve Docker, has been publicly recognised by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust for his ten years of otter volunteering. Alongside three other volunteers, Steve has been responsible for over 1,800 otter records in Derbyshire.

Eurasian Otter by Steve Docker

Eurasian Otter by Steve Docker

Steve surveys for the presence of otters (field signs) along the Henmore Brook in Derbyshire, which flows through the town of Ashbourne before joining the River Dove. The brook is ideal otter habitat, being a series of shallows interspersed with deep pools.

Henmore Brook by Steve Docker

Henmore Brook by Steve Docker

Otters are something of a recent conservation success story, with otters now being present in all English counties, after all but disappearing from lowland rivers in the 1960s. Survey results such as Steve’s are important in tracking the changing fortunes of otters both across the UK and at a local level.

Steve is not our only volunteer, as many of our consultants use their professional skills for other wildlife projects.

At Baker Consultants, our terrestrial ecologists are fully licensed and experienced great crested newt surveyors and have carried out accredited training in environmental DNA (eDNA) field sampling, led by Dr Jeremy Biggs, Director of the Freshwater Habitats Trust (FHT).

This innovative and recently developed survey method is used to detect microscopic fragments of DNA biomarkers belonging to great crested newts, which persist in waterbodies for between 1 and 3 weeks, depending on environmental conditions. This method can be used to determine species occupancy in ponds (i.e. presence/absence) and has the potential advantage of increasing survey efficiency from a financial, time and labour intensity perspective.

eDNA service at Baker Consultants

eDNA service at Baker Consultants

The fact that eDNA persists in waterbodies (excluding sedimentary deposits) for a relatively short period of time, means that collected samples should contain the DNA fragments of great crested newts that were recently present within the waterbody. This technique has been supported by Natural England and where negative results are returned following analysis, the requirement for further surveying using the standard bottle trapping, egg search and torchlight methods can be omitted; thus potentially saving the client time and money. Furthermore, a recent study published by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and conducted by the FHT, showed that eDNA sampling used to determine the presence of great crested newts had an accuracy level of 99.3%, compared to only 76% via the standard bottle trapping technique.

However, to support a licence application for development, Natural England will only accept the results of this new sampling technique if an appropriately trained and experienced great crested newt surveyor collects the samples. Additionally, in order to be accepted, these samples must be collected between 15th April and 30th June.

Baker Consultants are able to provide this eDNA service on request. Further details on prices and availability will be released in the near future. If you have any queries regarding this service, please contact Jake Robinson.

Baker Consultants has become a member of two organisations this month, INNSA (Invasive Non-Native Specialists Association) and the Freshwater Habitats Trust.

INNSA is the industry body for companies involved in controlling and eradicating invasive non-native species in the UK and the Freshwater Habitats Trust, based at Oxford Brookes University, is the only national freshwater charity that works for the protection of freshwater wildlife in all small water bodies, from ponds, to rivers, ditches, streams, and lakes.

Membership of such organisations can help in useful research and campaigning on issues affecting our environment. For more information on our services in these areas, freshwater or invasive species survey and consultancy, please contact survey@bakerconsultants.co.uk

Please click here for more information on each of the organisations:

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Freshwater Habitats Trust Logo

 

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

Rich has written an article in the latest edition of the Wind Energy Network magazine.

The article explains the importance of preliminary assessments and scientifically robust surveys in particular for bats and they way they use habitats.

Please read the link for the full article:

BatFeature

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

See the link to read the full article.

Image of Badger treat, laced with plastic pellets to help track badgers' range across a site.

Badger treat – laced with colourful plastic pellets that helps to find out how far particular badgers range over a site. Picture by Kelly Clark

Baker Consultants used a remote digital camera to monitor a potential sett.

A remote video recording technique has been cited as best practice by Network Rail after a project from Baker Consultants delivered significant savings on a rail infrastructure improvement project in Bedfordshire.

The camera, placed at the openings, recorded constantly for three weeks, only being triggered when movement around the entrance was detected.  All sorts of wildlife was recorded investigating the sett, including a young badger who stayed for three hours before moving on and not being seen again. The foxes, pole-cats, rabbits, cats and other animals all investigated the hole, but no-one took up residence.  We even picked up a tawny owl on site.

The information was discussed with Natural England who confirmed that a licence was not necessary to proceed with works at the site. The sett was closed using one-way gates and the camera used to monitor the site during the works.

Imaging is not the only technique used to remotely track badger activity, Kelly recently sent me some pictures of the lovely treacley mix of badger treat – laced with colourful plastic pellets that helps to find out how far particular badgers range over a site, that is, if you can find their poo!