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Winter Blues?

December 2016.  The last month of what has been a turbulent year.  I imagine that when historians look back at this year, some may use the word ‘change‘ or the phrase ‘defining moment‘ as they describe the various events that occurred between January 1st 2016 and December 31st 2016.  It is easy to think why in some respects – more of this later.

But how would I write up 2016?  For me?

Well, if I were to sum up 2016 in a single word, it would be ‘busy’.  This is my fifth full calendar year of trading; and my sixth year overall.  It has, by some distance been my busiest year.  You can tell because I haven’t written much on this blog.  Despite the events that I will come on to in a bit.

And if I were to sum up what I have been up to in a single word, excluding ‘ecology‘, it would have to be ‘invertebrates‘.  That is not to say exclusively invertebrates as ‘birds‘, ‘botany‘ and ‘reporting‘ have all played a role in the (business) calendar year.  You can read all about it in my latest client newsletter (click on the image to upload).


So what of recent events?



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I am writing this a little over a month since approximately 17.4 million individuals outvoted 16.1 million individuals in what was the EU Referendum.  The result, a split by 52 % for, and 48 % against, is to leave the European Union.

By some quirk of fate, I am personally, almost, the living embodiment of the UK’s lifetime of EU membership.  The UK voted to remain in the EEC (as it was back then) exactly a week before I was born in June 1975; and we voted to leave some 10 days after my 41st birthday.  As to when we actually leave is of course open to conjecture; though I don’t believe there is a credible political option to remain, i.e. ignore the Referendum (which is different to the legal argument(s)).

So what does this mean for ecologists, including myself of course; and those with a broader environmental remit?  The short answer is: who knows?!  And that would mean the end of this blog entry!

But I want to expand on some views expressed on a LinkedIn discussion forum [viewable after being accepted to the Group].

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) is my professional body and hosts a webpage with relevant information on the potential, and perhaps soon (?), actual implications of Brexit.

CIEEM represents over 5,000 individuals who work in various guises within the ecological and environmental professions, across all sectors.  Whether you work within the private sector like me, the public sector (e.g. local authority), or for an NGO such as the RSPB or Buglife, the impending exit from the EU is very likely to have a measurable effect; though the magnitude of the impact is the most significant unknown.

So what next?


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I estimate, that mid-June in each and every year, is approximately the middle of the calendar year; and approximately the middle of the main ecology survey season (in the UK).  With an enforced few days in the office given the weather (cool, grey skies and damp conditions), why mention the blues?

Well, I don’t want readers (Yes! it is still the plural) to think I have sunk in to a depression given the imminent EU Referendum (I haven’t).  It is just that as an invertebrate ecologist (mainly it would seem nowadays), I seek, I crave, I aspire to the blues.  Blue skies.


Blue skies over flower-rich grassland.  An invertebrate and an invertebrate ecologist's delight

Blue skies over flower-rich grassland. An invertebrate and an invertebrate ecologist’s delight!

Blue skies equals, in a UK summer, high pressure.  Meteorologically and work wise.  It means that I am busy, in the field surveying.  In 2016, I have been, and will continue to be surveying in various locations between south-west Scotland (near Stranraer) and east Kent (east of Canterbury).  And various places in between.  But today is a grey day so I am ‘stuck’ in the office.

A form of invertebrate survey, be it an initial appraisal or more detailed surveys are increasingly being asked for pre-planning by local authorities and environmental consultancies.  I don’t know why this seems to be the case.  It might be merely a consequence of an improving economy and an increase in house building (for example).  But it might also be that ecologists in consultancies, ecologists in local authorities and environmental co-ordinators within larger developers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to understand what invertebrates, be they individual species, assemblages or guilds such as pollinators, could be or are present on site.  May be developers, business & industry, and local authorities ‘connect’ with the concept that insects such as pollinators are ‘useful’ (as are dung-beetles which are more than proverbially useful)?  Whatever the reason, 2016 is exceptionally busy for me and I am very grateful to all my clients for commissioning me to work with them.

Indeed, it is so busy that I have, with the client’s agreement, delayed a survey until 2017.  So whilst I will be very busy during the second half of 2016 (be it the calendar year or ecology survey season), it remains a good time for others to consider if a site might need an invertebrate survey.

Like the appearance of blue skies, it is gladdening to know that invertebrates are increasing their profile and recognition within the planning and nature conservation sector.

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Three weeks to go to decide the UK’s future within Europe and perhaps the very concept of the UK itself (again!).

For those that know me; or keep in touch with my increasingly reduced blog output, my interest in politics and its interactions with nature conservation runs deep.  I have been mulling over whether to write something on this subject that everyone is talking about, but in reality, knows very little on what the consequences would be.  But I couldn’t resist!

I don’t want to dwell on the ‘for’ and ‘against’ leaving the EU – I have written about this elsewhere; and others have put forward the case too such as here.  Though as a brief aside, I have not managed to locate anything meaningful by those that campaign to leave on the environmental issues (which may be telling); and nor have others it would seem. So on this topic, in my opinion, the correct box to tick is a no-brainer – unless you would prefer to return to the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s UK in environmental terms and re-live the Silent Spring.

Instead, I have thought about the outcome – what is most likely?  But not the consequences.  It is probably the question to ponder but are there any pointers?  And in my view, a jar full of sweets might help.


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April 5th 2011.  I went to bed technically unemployed but woke up on the 6th April 2011 self-employed.  And on the following 1,826 occasions since then, I have gone to bed and woken up again self-employed.  It’s been quite a journey.

I ought to have created a map of where I have worked, it would be an interesting exercise.  But I do know that I’ve been fortunate to work (and get paid!) in amazing places – Northumberland, North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks.  I’ve worked in Scotland and England; but not yet Wales or Northern Ireland.  Kent (south-east), Devon (south-west), Dumfries (north-west) and Angus (north-east) are the compass extremities; but most of my work is in northern England and the English Midlands.

I wonder where the next five years will take me?

One of my first commissioned projects (three sites in West Yorkshire) are now up and running (police stations if you’re interested).  I am now about to embark on some monitoring on a site which I was first involved with pre-planning (and pre-Judicial Review!) so I am starting to consider that I have become established; or at least been around long enough to see projects go from conception to fruition.

On a personal level, I started self-employed life with one child, a three-bedroom house, a car and a wife.  Five years later, I’ve added a bedroom (moved), a car, and a child; but not, I hasten to add, a wife!

So, as I embark on my sixth and seemingly busy year (Kent, Dumfries, Cumbria, Leicestershire, Yorkshire so far), I would like to say thank you.  For those that have commissioned me since April 2011 (and continue to do so), thank you for the journey. And to my wonderful accountants who let me do the ecology and not worry about the books – and taught me a bit about wider business – thanks to you too!

Here’s to completing the decade!

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Today, I am heading south as some of our first spring migrants are heading north.  I’ve yet to see my first ones; but may be, as the Urban Birder (David Lindo) suggests, when I arrive in London, I should look up (but may be not like the image on his website!).  And indeed I might.


Sand martin (Riparia riparia) by Nigel Wedge (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence)

The purpose is to attend CIEEM’s spring conference on advances in Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA).  I am particularly interested to hear one of the talks which will be on ornithological EcIA and a standardised approach by Biocensus’ Tim Hounsome.  I am hoping that it will include some thoughts, opinions and conclusions on number of survey visits (at least 4 is my hope!) and methods (modified version of the CBC territory mapping methodology is my hope! [see section 2.3.1 of this document.]).


Walking to and from my daughter’s primary school, albeit between 08:20 and 09:10 hrs each morning, I am beginning to get a picture, though not an accurate one, of the breeding bird assemblage within my neighbourhood.  So far, I can reasonably assume, that blackbird (Turdus merula), dunnock (Prunella modularis), greenfinch (Chloris chloris), goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) and house sparrow (Passer domesticus) are likely breeding species in gardens.  Red kite (Milvus milvus) are displaying over farmland to the north and viewable from our front garden.  Male and female siskin (Spinus spinus) are still present in our garden, feeding on the bird feeder so am not sure if they will hang around to breed.

This brief blog is to really say that the breeding bird season has genuinely started – not at full throttle yet, but certainly the early birds are beginning to show interest.  Tim’s talk is well timed and I am genuinely looking forward to hearing it…so Tim, no pressure!

So if you are reading this and joining me in a ‘reverse migration’ (like water pipits (Anthus spinoletta)) to London and the CIEEM, conference, perhaps find me and say hello.

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Midway through February 2016 already!  Tempis fugit.

Approximately this time last year, I wrote two blogs on the birds and the bees; here on my blog but also on LinkedIn.  I wrote them, partly because it is kind of a traditional ecology thing to do – remind clients that in just six weeks or so (about the same time since Christmas 2015 looking backwards), the survey season will be upon us.  Planning for ecology in February and March should always pay dividends; fail to plan equating to planning to fail and all that.  But also, keen to emphasise surveys that are important but frequently not thought about; either at all, or in the relevant detail appropriate to the study site.

Now today, looking out my new window (we moved in May 2015); and whilst walking the kids to primary school and nursery, the first signs of spring 2016 are already evident: dunnocks singing; great and blue tits chasing each other in the garden hedgerows; the first daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops emerging from the wet ground; and displaying red kites viewable from the front of our house.  Yet there is still evidence of winter; not just the temperatures, but also the redpoll on the bird feeder with various other finches.

So I write this, with a little trepidation (like last year): what will 2016 herald for myself; and also perhaps, you the reader?  Last year, for me, it was Devon, London, lots of sites in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and the third consecutive year surveying spiders in the Border Mires of Northumberland and Cumbria; or the Yorkshire Dales to name a few.

The area of my work that is developing at quite a pace is the invertebrate ecology side of things (though I can survey for birds, undertake Preliminary Ecological Appraisals and more detailed botanical surveys too).  The invertebrate survey guidance, mentioned here and in CIEEM’s In Practice magazine is coming along and will be a focus for my attention in the second half of February and March.  But I want to get a key message out early, so I imagine, sitting here at my desk, that my peers in other offices in companies up and down the UK are also thinking about the survey season too – great crested newt, reptile, badger, otter and water vole surveys to be recommended, whether it be on semi-natural or not so semi-natural habitats.

So I’d like to complete this short blog by asking you to look at two images; a brownfield site (top) and a greenfield site (below).  Both were surveyed in 2015 for their terrestrial invertebrate faunas (pat on the back to the consultancies that recognised the need without the guidance); but what groups or ecological guilds do you think the surveys were focussing on; and what were the policy and legislative drivers?

Survey Season for a reason (2016)

Survey Season for a reason (2016) (a)

There are no prizes other than self-satisfaction but when you are reviewing your projects for 2016, perhaps this blog will make you think, not just about bats (which are important), great crested newts (which are important) but also about the wider importance of the site.

For those that are also going, I will be attending CIEEM’s spring conference in London following the publication of the second edition of the EcIA Guidelines published in early January.  So, if you are going (it is fully booked), perhaps let me know; or find me, and it would be good to say hello; and perhaps find out the answer?

After all…it is the survey season for a reason.

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