Posts

Last week, as part of our ongoing CPD and survey innovation commitments, two of our Natural England licensed bat ecologists attended an advanced bat survey techniques training course in Sussex at the National Trust Slindon Estate. Uniquely, this course is run via the not-for-profit Bat Conservation and Research Unit (BatCRU); something that particularly appeals to our conservation-minded ecologists. In essence, the trainees taking part in the course are also acting as researchers and funds generated from the training courses (alongside a grant from SITA) enable the BatCRU to undertake The West Sussex Bat Project with support from the National Trust.

The course has been running since 2013 and the overall aim is to use the data acquired from all the research to apply for a grant for large-scale bat habitat improvements in West Sussex, particularly for rare Annex II bat species (such as the barbastelle bats shown below) from the EU LIFE+ fund.

Three barbastelle bats in the hand, caught using harp traps and mist nets (with lures) on the course. Photo by Matt Cook

Three barbastelle bats in the hand, caught using harp traps and mist nets (with lures) on the course. Photo by Matt Cook

What bat survey skills did we learn?

For Diana Clark, Senior Ecologist at Baker Consultants and licensed at level 2 by Natural England, this was her first time on the week-long course. An experienced bat ecologist with many years experience as a consultant (and with local bat groups), Diana was keen to learn more about the use of advanced survey techniques such as mist nets, harp traps, acoustic lures, professional night-vision equipment and radio-tagging and -tracking, as well as research techniques such as ringing. Suffice to say Diana now has an excellent understanding of these methods, and when best to use them, and was lucky enough to get up close and personal with a couple of new (to her) bat species.

For Matt Cook, Senior Ecologist at Baker Consultants, this was actually his third time. Matt already holds a Natural England level 3 and 4 class licence to survey for bats using the above techniques, but is always keen to advance his knowledge further and study bat ecology in general; particularly when he can support the research being undertaken by BatCRU.

Harp trap by Simon Curtin

Harp trap by Simon Curtin

More information

All bats and their roosts are protected from harm and disturbance at all times by EU and UK law and bats’ foraging habitats also receive some protection within the planning system.

  • For more information on how our advanced bat survey techniques can benefit your project or if you have any queries relating to bats and your project, please contact Matt Cook, Senior Ecologist.
  • Read more about our bat services here.

The course Matt and Diana attended was devised and run by Daniel Whitby, Director of AEWC Ltd with additional support from Daniel Hargreaves of Trinibats. Both Daniel W and Daniel H are technical advisors to the Bat Conservation Trust and Natural England. If you would like more information on The West Sussex Bat Project or training courses to be run in 2016, please contact Daniel Whitby of AEWC and BatCRU.

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.

As The Guardian reported, this January saw the announcement that wild beavers living on the River Otter in Devon would be allowed to remain, providing they are ‘proven free of disease and of Eurasian origin’. This is a potentially historic decision, as it is thought that beavers became extinct in the UK at the end of the 17th Century.

Update as of March 2015: The wild beavers have now been released back into the River Otter after being confirmed disease free.

Beavers are considered a keystone species due to their beneficial impact on biodiversity. As John Lister-Kaye, director of the Aigas Field Centre, describes it, “Beavers shift everything, tirelessly, instinctively, creatively. That’s why ecologists call them a ‘keystone species’. By doing their own thing, they create habitats and opportunities for just about everything else”.

Beaver by Aigas Field Centre

Photo by Aigas Field Centre

A nine-year study of essentially wild beavers carried out at the Aigas Field Centre found that, when measured against adjacent wetlands the beavers had not utilised, biodiversity had expanded by a factor of four.

As well as this benefit for wildlife, the wetlands created and restored by beavers can trap sediments, reduce pollution and slow water flows through a river catchment. This can help improve water quality and reduce flooding downstream, helping sustainable management of the water cycle and benefiting human communities in nearby areas.

The Devon beavers are not alone in the UK, as there could currently be around 300 wild beavers, including those in an official beaver trial in Knapdale, Argyllshire and the beavers ‘unofficially’ living wild on the River Tay, Perthshire. However, aside from the Devon beavers, no decision has been made regarding the future of beavers in the UK.

‘Trophy camera traps’ were originally designed to provide the sport hunter with information regarding the abundance and distribution of their ‘trophy’ (i.e. game animals). However, the appropriation of this field tool by ecologists in recent years has considerably improved the monitoring efficiency of notable species for conservation purposes; i.e. by minimising cost and effort and providing a non- invasive method of obtaining important ecological/behavioural data.
Baker Consultants’ Ecologist Jake Robinson and external colleague Courtenay Holden are researching ways to further optimise the efficiency of camera trapping in the field. Their research also includes an investigation into the reliability of data collection and subsequent analysis, with particular emphasis on behavioural aspects of British mammals.
“We are investigating potential responsive behaviours (e.g. vigilance/awareness) of mammals, displayed in the presence of camera traps in the field. With remote applications such as Passive Infrared (PIR) camera traps being utilised more and more frequently for wildlife research and ecological consultation, we believe it is important to scrutinise their efficacy; and this lead us to ask ourselves questions such as:

  •  Is the introduction of a foreign item with a novel shape, texture, odour, and sound likely to capture a true snapshot (or video) of natural wildlife behaviours?
  • Does the presence of such an item encourage curious animals to investigate, or hypersensitive animals to display vigilance/avoidance behaviour?
  • Are new interactions being encouraged or facilitated by this novel item, and are our results from camera trap data therefore reliable?”

An article describing their research in more detail will be published in a number of magazines including the next issue of the Mammal Society’s ‘Mammal News’.

Remote video cameras were used by Baker Consultants to monitor a badger sett on a railway embankment needing repair. To read the full case study from Tata Projects click here.

To contact us about site surveys where notable or protected species may be present please email: survey@bakerconsultants.co.uk

 

Badger Cam        Fox Cam