Posts

Baker Consultants has been shortlisted for a CIEEM award for Best Practice Innovation for innovative bird bioacoustics surveying work in a Special Protection Area in Thames Basin Heaths.

Baker Consultants have been shortlisted for a CIEEM award for Best Practice Innovation, due to be announced in January 2021 (due to Covid delays), for innovative bird bioacoustics surveying work in a Special Protection Area in Thames Basin Heaths.

In 2018, Baker Consultants recorded bird song at 44 sites within the Thames Basin Heaths and Wealden Heaths SPAs using automated recording units. These sites are internationally designated for their breeding populations of European nightjar, woodlark and Dartford Warbler.

Funded by Natural England, who has been coordinating annual surveys of the Thames Basin Heaths SPA bird species since 2003, the research was carried out by Baker Consultant’s Technical Director Carlos Abraham.

Natural England selected Baker Consultants for the work due to previous pioneering work published by Baker Consultants[1] on the use of bioacoustics for surveying nightjar and other bird species.

Jessica James of Natural England  commented, “The TBH team was aware of the pioneering work that Baker Consultants had published on the use of bioacoustics for surveying nightjar[1] and other bird species. Following a conversation with Andrew Baker, Marc Turner (NE’s senior planning advisor for TBH) asked Baker Consultants to consider how the techniques could be applied to monitoring the interest features of the Thames Basin Heaths SPA. Baker Consultants responded to our request by offering a detailed research proposal which was comprehensively supported with reference to the peer-reviewed literature.”

This was the first project of its type in Europe, and one of only a handful of similar studies that have been undertaken globally. The data gathered from bioacoustic surveys was assessed within an ‘occupancy modelling’ framework. This is a relatively new statistical analysis method that allows population density (‘occupancy’) to be calculated, whilst also taking into account the accuracy of the survey method (‘detectability’).

The study is also the first in the UK to undertake a large-scale survey for multiple bird species using automated recorders. It therefore expands the geographic scope of case studies for these methods, and applies them in a new habitat, beyond the American forested ecosystems in which most previous studies have been located.

One of the benefits of the approach taken in this study is its ease of replication.  The automated recorders used were off-the-shelf commercial units (Wildlife Acoustics SongMeters), the software for call analysis (Kaleidoscope Pro) is also widely available and currently used by a number of organisations.  Statistical analysis was conducted in open-source R and the code scripts will shortly be made publicly available by Baker Consultants in a permanent data repository (Mendeley Data). As such, the project could be repeated by others on different sites, and with different species, as appropriate to their own project needs.

In addition, the project has also prompted the development of a draft protocol for bird bioacoustics, published in CIEEMs In Practice, and has been included as a case study in a CIEEM webinar and training workshop on bioacoustics, and delivered at talks for the BES and UK Acoustics Network. Further training, building on the outputs of the project, has also taken place on behalf of PR Statistics, Natural England and Wildlabs.net. A scientific paper based on the study has recently been published in Ecological Indicators.

Jessica James said of the results of the project, “Natural England was very impressed with the quality of the work completed by Baker Consultants. This was a relatively small demonstration project with limited funding. However, the outputs were considerable and exceeded our expectations in terms of the breadth of the work and the possibilities for applying this technique in the future to monitor not only the target species of the Thames Basin Heaths but also other target species on other sites and habitats. We feel that the work made a significant contribution to the development of best practice for monitoring ecological change and will lead to positive outcomes for wider nature conservation.”

On national and international scales, there is a critical need for effective, replicable and long-term monitoring of threatened wildlife and so at Baker Consultants we were excited about the successful outcomes of this project. New technology provides the opportunity for innovative fieldwork and assessment methods, enabling potential benefits to the monitoring of notable species and management of important sites. Bioacoustic monitoring has transformed the understanding of bat and cetacean ecology in recent years, but so far, has been little used for other taxa – despite a rapidly increasing scientific evidence-base.

Most importantly, our study demonstrates that the innovative methods used offer a practical alternative to ‘traditional’ bird monitoring methods, offering more effective data capture through longer-term deployment, consistent coverage between sites, avoidance of observer biases and enabling the use of better statistical methods.

 

If you have surveying or species monitoring needs, then please  get in touch with us via our contact form on the website, or you can call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on info@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

 

[1] (Zwart, M.C.Baker, A., McGowan, P.J.K., & Whittingham, M.J (2014) The Use of Automated Bioacoustic Recorders to Replace Human Wildlife Surveys: An Example Using Nightjars PLoS One 9(7).

Innovation in Bird Bioacoustics saves manpower and cuts costs for surveying target species

Earlier in the year Baker Consultants published a paper in the Elsevier Ecological Indicators journal on “Combining bioacoustics and occupancy modelling for improved monitoring of rare breeding bird populations”.

This innovative piece of research work has caused some excitement in ecology circles and is one that opens up new possibilities when it comes to species monitoring using technology and data analysis skills.  Funded by Natural England, the research was carried out by Baker Consultants’ Technical Director Carlos Abrahams, and published in a high quality peer reviewed journal.  Carlos’ expertise in sound recording and data analysis drove this piece of work, following his previous studies on capercaillie in Scotland. One of the key elements of the paper was the ability to combine the acoustic recordings of target species at a range of locations, with GIS and satellite remote sensing data of the habitats present at each site.  This allowed the environmental factors that determine species presence and detectability to be assessed.

We’re really excited by the outcomes of this research, as it makes acoustic survey methods much more viable for landowners, developers and estate managers.  Traditional surveying techniques ordinarily rely on huge manpower efforts to regularly visit sites to observe and record target species.  With the techniques developed by Carlos, we’re able to monitor the species by gathering larger data sets over longer time-frames, while reducing the manpower costs of data collection.  Survey by acoustic recording is also more effective at producing a robust and defensible dataset, as it can be subject to quality assurance processes and the raw data can be stored permanently.

We are continuing to carry out ecological consultancy during the Covid19 lockdown. If you have any surveying or monitoring needs during this period, then please  get in touch with us via our  contact form on the website, call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on info@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

Baker Consultants’ Technical Director Carlos Abrahams is leading a webinar in association with the Institute of Acoustics and UK Acoustics Network on 13 May from 2pm.  The session will take delegates through the use of bioacoustics for field survey covering a wide range of species groups including birds, mammals, amphibians and invertebrates.

Baker Consultants’ Technical Director Carlos Abrahams is leading a webinar on the use of bioacoustics for field survey in association with the UK Acoustics Network on 13 May from 2pm.

If you would like to know more about how bioacoustic recording can provide a cost effective, highly robust method for gathering ecological data, register for this free session at the link below:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/using-bioacoustics-for-field-survey-carlos-abrahams-tickets-104430179478

If you need advice on surveys for land management, planning or development, then please  get in touch with us via our contact form on the website, or you can call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on info@bakerconsultants.co.uk.

Baker Consultants support an active programme of research aimed at improving ecological survey and analysis techniques.  Working in collaboration with a Nottinghamshire based ringing group and using Wildlife Acoustics unattended acoustic recording devices (ARDs), Ecologist Steve Docker is researching male European nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus bioacoustics. Read more

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

 

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

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.

Bioacoustic recorders could provide us with vital additional information to help us protect rare and endangered birds, such as the European nightjar. Research, led by Newcastle University, found that newly developed remote survey techniques were twice as effective at detecting rare birds as conventional survey methods.

Using automated equipment to record nightjars at dawn and dusk, when the birds are most active, the team found a 217% increased detection rate of the nightjar over those carried out by specialist ornithologists. Published this month in the prestigious academic journal Public Library of Science One (PLOS ONE) (article available here), lead author Mieke Zwart said the findings suggest that automated technology could provide us with an important additional tool to help us survey and protect rare birds.

“The results of this research will help conservationists monitor endangered species more effectively,” explains Mieke, who carried out the research as part of her PhD, supported by Baker Consultants Ltd and Wildlife Acoustics Inc. “The European nightjar, for example, is only active at night and is very well camouflaged, making it difficult to detect using traditional survey methods. Using bioacoustics techniques we can more accurately build up a picture of where these birds are, population numbers, movement and behaviour.”

The European nightjar – Caprimulgus europaeus – is a migratory species protected under the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC) and in the UK by the classification of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Nesting on lowland heath, such as parts of Sherwood Forest and Thames Basin Heath, the nightjar can be negatively affected by developments including housing. Due to this, as part of the planning process, developers must now provide data on presence and abundance of nightjar and provide mitigation plans to prevent their disturbance before planning applications will be considered.

Traditional bird survey methods involve specialist ornithologists conducting field surveys to identify and count the birds they encounter. However, these are time-consuming, must be performed by experts, and could be inaccurate when surveying species that are difficult to detect.

Bioacoustics is the science of recording of wildlife sounds and processing that data to provide information on species numbers, movement or behaviour. Using automated audio recorders and analysis software, the technology is ‘trained’ to automatically recognise the calls of individual species, in this case the nightjar. Remote recorders were deployed at specific sites and the results were compared against observations from standard human field surveys of the same sites.

Andrew Baker, co-author of the paper, said: “This is a key piece of research that has demonstrated how effective bioacoustics techniques can be for providing ecological data. This research has challenged conventional methods and could be applied to a wide range of species to give more accurate, objective data on bird numbers and distribution. The study has implications for a range of other species, including black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and woodlark (Lullula arborea). This is especially important when information on species presence and abundance is used to inform conservation projects or development plans.”

Read more about our latest nightjar bioacoustics project here.

Source Information: “The use of automated bioacoustic recorders to replace human wildlife surveys: An example using nightjars.” Mieke C. Zwart, Andrew Baker, Philip J. K. McGowan, Mark J. Whittingham. PLOS ONE, July 16, 2014

Media Contacts:
Mieke Zwart, PhD student, School of Biology, Newcastle University. Tel: 07580 362783; email: m.c.zwart@ncl.ac.uk

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants Ltd and a co-author of the paper. Tel: 07590 122969; email:a.baker@bakerconsultants.co.uk

Louella Houldcroft, Senior Communications Manager, Newcastle University. Tel: 0191 208 5108/07989 850511; email:Louella.houldcroft@ncl.ac.uk

This work was part-funded by Wildlife Acoustics, Inc who also provided the recording devices and software to process the recordings.