Feeds:
Posts
Comments

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.

Advertisements

This year has turned out to be one of the most rewarding since starting freelance in April 2011.  I’ve been fortunate to have worked in some fabulous scenery and amazing locations such as the Northumberland National Park; on some interesting sites in London, Lincolnshire and Cumbria and some remote locations such as the Isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides.

Hebrides

Sound of Eriskay with South Uist in the background (left) & surveying on the Isle of Eriskay, Outer Hebrides, June 2015 (right)

The diversity of clients and projects has made this a most enjoyable year.  So please accept my thanks and gratitude and hopefully we can work together in 2016 or some future date.

 

All this work has meant that there has been little opportunity to devote much time to my Blog.  Much has happened in the world of ecology, nature conservation policy and wildlife law.

The Law Commission finally published the outcome of its review on nature conservation law in November 2015 alongside its proposed new Wildlife Bill.  A brief summary can be read on CIEEM’s website here; but it is a substantial document which will take a great deal of reading before the full implications are appreciated.  And this is before it is allocated time in Parliament for debate.  My gut feeling is that the in/ out referendum on the UK’s status in the EU may come first as much of our environmental legislation is influenced by Brussels.  It would surely make sense to know the outcome of this significant debate before the proposals presented by the Law Commission are debated?

Avid readers of CIEEM’s In Practice will have noted mine and Sarah Henshall’s article on proposed invertebrate survey guidance and a request for feedback.  The intention now is to push back publication of the guidance to early 2017 (not 2016 as mentioned in the article) as it has generated a lot of comments and feedback, much of it positive and welcomed.  It is our plan to work on the first draft early in the new year.

Next year is already looking potentially busy.  January to March will be spent identifying material collected as part of the third year surveying for upland spiders in the Yorkshire Dales (Pennines) and Northumberland and Cumberland Border Mires.  The target is the rare and elusive money-spider, Semljicola caliginosus, a denizen of cool, wet Sphagnum seepage lines.  The species has been recorded in 2015 from suitable habitat in the Yorkshire Dales NP.  However the most exciting discovery has been another money-spider, Minicia marginella, which has previously only been recorded a couple of times from Kent in the early 1990s and not since then.  A single female was collected in autumn 2014 and subsequently a male and female in summer 2015 from Butterburn Flow SSSI/ SAC/ Ramsar Site.  This is the only known site in the UK for this enigmatic and highly characteristic spider.

Am sure spring will be upon us soon, though at the time of writing, it is feeling a bit spring like already!

So I will leave you with this image and wishing you a relaxing Christmas break and New Year…and thanking all those who have worked with me during the previous twelve months.

Christmas Card 2015

 

 

Autumn 2015 Newsletter

My latest client newsletter with news on what I have been up to in the last six months…

Newsletter Cover (Autumn 2015)

I am interested to hear about any winter opportunities, particularly bird surveys which I could help with.  More details in the newsletter.

Autumn arrives

Common Swift (Apus apus) in flight. (Photo by 'Keta' under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

Common Swift (Apus apus) in flight. (Photo by ‘Keta’ under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

Like the swifts in Leeds, summer has departed…or at least what the Meteorological Office defines as summer (June to August inclusive).  In terms of what you or I might call a summer, that has been a bit of a disappointment though I escaped for two weeks at the latter end of August to southern France; the triangulation point of the Dordogne, Limousin and Aquitaine within the Perigord Forest Regional Park.

Returning to Leeds, as we drove the last few miles back to our house, I noticed the first leaves on the outer ring road…autumn.  The horse chestnut trees that line the A61 towards Harewood House were, and still are, ‘dripping’ with green spiky globules which will soon become conkers.  And as the season turns and many ecologists are busy with the last bat activity surveys, I will be finishing my last invertebrate survey visit, targeting woodland Diptera such as craneflies.  Then it is eyes down the microscope and report writing time…when I re-live the surveys of months past: Devon, Buckinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Outer Hebrides and courtesy of Rosie Earwaker of the RSPB, Fetlar.

But it is not always about invertebrates.  Birds too are part of my skill set and I am keen to get involved with some survey work; so if you are involved with any largish projects that might need my avian identification skills and experience, please do give me a call…on my new number as remember, I’ve moved.

It has been a significant time since I last wrote a post; indeed it is approximately 3.5 months ago.  April, May, June and so far in July, I have been continuously busy with surveys in various places in England including Devon, Buckinghamshire, London, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Cumbria and the Outer Hebrides.  The surveys have mostly been of the invertebrate variety and have included greenfield and brownfield sites; supporting Ecological Impact Assessments and pure ecological research.

Whilst I am writing this looking out of my new office (I have moved to north Leeds in May 2015) to clear blue skies, the season has been challenging owing to prolonged periods of poor spring and early summer weather…not conducive or helpful for invertebrate surveys.

What is stimulating me to write this short blog is the recent article on BBC News (see here) which reports on today’s publication by HM Treasury entitled “Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation“.  In particular, Chapter 9 of the document and specifically paragraphs 9.15 and 9.16:

9.15 The government has already committed to legislating for statutory registers of brownfield land suitable for housing in England. The government will go further by legislating to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified on those registers, subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details. On brownfield sites, this will give England a ‘zonal’ system, like those seen in many other countries, reducing unnecessary delay and uncertainty for brownfield development.
9.16 In the spring, the government consulted on reforms to bring forward more brownfield land for development by making the compulsory purchase regime clearer, faster and fairer for all parties. This first round of reforms will be introduced through legislation in this session of Parliament. A number of additional proposals have been received from that consultation; the government is considering the case for these additional compulsory purchase reforms to further modernise the system, and will bring forward proposals in the autumn. These will allow local authorities and others to drive forward and shape brownfield development, and will not alter the principle of Secretary of State sign-off on compulsory purchase orders.

[bold text, Government’s emphasis]

On first appraisal, the proposals are suggesting that this process, if implemented, will result in planning applications, and therefore construction, becoming easier and reaching completion more quickly with less due diligence than is currently the case.

However, there is a key phrase that is worth noting.  In paragraph 9.15, “…automatic permission in principle…,subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details.” implies that the necessary due diligence (contaminated land and remediation and protecting species and habitats, including great crested newts, bats, invertebrates and communities such as the UK Habitat of Principal Importance (= UK Priority Habitat), Open Mosaic Habitat on Previously Developed Land (OMH) will still require consideration, survey and appropriate and proportionate mitigation and enhancement in accordance with legislation, other Government policy drivers (e.g. Biodiversity 2020) and the British Standard (BS42020: Biodiversity in Planning & Development).

So, in my view and perhaps others (e.g. here), the proposed new policy implementation may not be as helpful as George Osborne may wish.

This leads neatly on to my and Sarah Henshall’s article published in the June 2015 issue of In Practice published by the Chartered Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management (see below).

Proposed New Guidance for Commissioning Terrestrial Invertebrate Surveys – A Call for Feedback

Proposed New Guidance for Commissioning Terrestrial Invertebrate Surveys – A Call for Feedback

The Government is clearly pushing for development on brownfield sites and the pressures on biodiversity is likely to increase.  The proposed guidance is aimed at consultant ecologists and local authority ecologists, though planners can read it too!  It is hoped that it will provide a useful single resource to allow a consistent approach when considering whether invertebrate surveys are required…on brownfield or greenfield sites.  Please take time to read the article and if you have any comments or suggestions on what the proposed new guidance should contain, please send me, in the first instance, some feedback to my e-mail address (see contacts page).

Thanks.

March, as for birds, is also the transitional period between winter and spring.  At some point between the beginning of March and the end of March, the first hoverflies, butterflies, bee-flies and possibly even damselflies will start to emerge.  Whilst there are a few hardy species, active during the winter months (for example, the winter moth, November moth and yes, you’ve guessed it the December moth; and surprise, surprise, the winter gnats); March is really that time of the year when, along with the aptly named March moth, a lot of invertebrates start to reveal themselves.

Winter moth (Operophtera brumata) caterpillar.  A significant prey item for many woodland birds. (credit: spacebirdy / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Winter moth (Operophtera brumata) caterpillar. A significant prey item for many woodland birds. (Photo Credit: spacebirdy/ CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Whilst invertebrates are not generally viewed as cuddly or cute, and can be viewed with negative connotations (e.g. pests), they are actually indispensable providing significant ecosystem services such as pollination, acting as waste disposers and recycling materials, maintaining soil quality as well as significant biodiversity and cultural benefits.  Our human economy (e.g. agriculture) and cultural values are in part, dependent on these creatures.  This importance is recognised in various documents such as the Government’s National Pollinator Strategy and the State of Nature report published in 2014.

Both these documents recognised that invertebrates are declining and that there is a need to counteract these declines.  Ecologists working within the planning and development sector need to ensure that invertebrates’ diverse requirements are fully considered when completing a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) of a site.  Ecologists (and developers) are familiar with the requirement to consider habitats and features for their potential to support great crested newts and bats; dormice, water voles, reptiles and birds.  Yet it seems at odds with the services that invertebrates provide for us humans that they seem to get overlooked; possibly because of misconceptions relating to legal and policy protection; belief that too much of a focus is given to rarity status of individual species, which in turn is a reflection of under-recording; and general habitat protection with the obligatory log-pile or ‘insect-house’ will provide sufficient mitigation and enhancement without the need to understand what is there.  This bias against invertebrates is not restricted to this sector; for example, see here.

Invertebrates live their lives at a different scale to us humans; and many other species we ecologists are used to thinking about.  For example, bats generally require landscape-scale considerations – somewhere to roost such as a barn but also commuting routes (e.g. hedgerows) and foraging habitat (those hedgerows again, but also woodland edge and perhaps more open areas too).  But Melitta tricincta is an example of thinking at a different scale.  This solitary bee is monolectic on red bartsia (Odontites vernus).  In other words, it will only collect the pollen from this diminutive grassland plant and no other.  So a small site with red bartsia growing on it and with suitable nesting habitat nearby and in the right geographic location could support this species.  All of this could occur within a few square tens of metres.

A solitary bee (Andrena sp.) nectaring.  Some species are specific to a certain family, genus or even species of plant for pollen.  Not only this, they need the plant to be growing in close proximity to suitable nesting sites.

A solitary bee (Andrena sp.) nectaring. Some species are specific to a certain family, genus or even species of plant for pollen. Not only this, they need the plant to be growing in close proximity to suitable nesting sites.

Any proposed development located within brownfield (‘derelict land’) should be given serious consideration for invertebrate surveys, especially if all or part of the site exceeds 0.25 ha (50 m x 50 m) and comprises successional vegetation communities, evidence of disturbance and mosaics of vegetation with bare ground.  Brownfields can include quarries, industrial land (including marginal areas within an otherwise operational site) and the fringes of transport corridors where mosaics of semi-natural vegetation has developed over soils, sands, waste and other materials.  One site, Canvey Wick, has become a Site of Special Scientific Interest; recognised as a nationally important site for its invertebrate communities.

Greenfield sites, including those which are predominantly in agricultural landuse, can also provide habitats for important invertebrate assemblages.  Whilst much of rural lowland Britain is intensively managed, features such as copses, hedgerows and wider field margins should all be considered in the context of ecological connectivity with more favourable habitat.  For example, hedgerows connected to deciduous woodland from an invertebrate’s perspective, could be viewed as a narrow, linear extension of said wood, especially if these support ancient or veteran trees with dead wood.

Veteran or ancient trees in a hedgerow can provide suitable habitat for saproxylic ('deadwood') invertebrates.

Veteran or ancient trees in a hedgerow can provide suitable habitat for saproxylic (‘deadwood’) invertebrates.

Legislators have given some consideration to invertebrates and expect decision makers to do the same too.  Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 require local authorities (for example) to have regard to biodiversity and in particular species and habitats of principal importance.  There are 413 invertebrate species (including sub-species) listed in England, Scotland and Wales which require special consideration and other strategies such as the Government’s Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services and the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework document all support the ethos of considering invertebrates within the planning system as part of the UK’s national and international responsibilities.

Now, no one blog will be able to satisfactorily convey these issues, even within the context of development planning, in a succinct and informal way.  Therefore, I am pleased to say that with my colleague, Dr. Sarah Henshall (Buglife‘s lead ecologist), and with support from CIEEM, we will be writing a guidance document aimed at professional ecologists to enable them to determine if further invertebrate surveys are justified.  More details will be published in the June 2015 edition of In Practice which will include a request for input and feedback from entomologists and non-specialists alike so do look out for this.

In the meantime, whether you are undertaking a PEA on brownfield or greenfield sites, and you think that invertebrates ought to be considered, give me a call.  Robust surveys, enabling the LPA to fulfil their legal obligation should commence by late April/ early May and continue through the summer.  You can contact me via this website; or via my LinkedIn profile for further advice.

Woodland, hedgerow and field in typical lowland England scene.  Habitat offers a wide range of nesting habitat for bird species.

Woodland, hedgerow and field in typical lowland England scene. Habitat offers a wide range of nesting habitat for bird species.

March. The first month of spring.  It always seems to me that this month marks the beginning of the end of damp, cold weather and the beginning of the beginning of slightly warmer temperatures, slightly warmer damp!  It also marks a colour change.  For the last few months, since autumn, the predominant colour has been green and brown, unless there is snow on the ground, in which case it is briefly white.  Come March, the first yellows appear, in the form of dandelions and colt’s-foot; and the first white, in the form of blackthorn and willow; and the first lime-green flecks of emerging leaves.  And there is an audible change too.  Dunnocks (or hedge accentors if you prefer the official name) are singing on the garden hedges, wing-flicking and generally thinking about nests and eggs.  Always a good indication that the breeding bird season has started.  And if the breeding bird season has started, now is the time to think about your development site and think about breeding bird surveys.

And it is not just the birds that are think about building ‘homes’.  So too are house builders (though I doubt they are singing or doing their equivalent of wing-flicking).  The UK Government issued a press release on the 4th March 2015 that enough public sector land has been released to build over 103,000 homes.

But legislators have also thought about the ecological consequences of building new homes.  Ecologists and developers are well-versed in the need to protect nests and eggs for all our species; the oft quoted bit of legislation is Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  It is an offence to “…take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built…” so vegetation clearance is aimed to be timed outside the breeding bird season.

However, there is recent legislation, that amended the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.  This amendment requires decision makers, such as local planning authorities (LPA), to “…take such steps in the exercise of their functions as they consider appropriate to secure the objective [of]…the preservation, maintenance and re-establishment of a sufficient diversity and area of habitat for wild birds in the United Kingdom, including by means of the upkeep, management and creation of such habitat, as appropriate, having regard to the requirements of Article 2 of the new Wild Birds Directive.”.

In my view, what this means in practice is that any planning application where a proposed development will impact on the preservation or maintenance of habitats that support bird populations, an appropriate and proportionate survey effort would be necessary to enable the LPA to fulfil their obligation under Regulation 9A of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended).  The type of habitats that I foresee this being relevant will include:

Brownfield site (north-east England) with patches of scrub & open areas offering nesting and foraging habitat for breeding birds.

Brownfield site (north-east England) with patches of scrub & open areas offering nesting and foraging habitat for breeding birds.

So, where there is a development likely to impact hedgerows, woodlands and shelter-belts, grasslands (including agricultural fields/ pasture), the margins of waterbodies (e.g. reedbeds, marshes, ‘bogs’); or brownfield sites within urban areas, then there is likely to be a requirement to undertake a pre-submission dedicated breeding bird survey.

If you have a site which is coming ‘on-line’; and you are commissioning surveys on the ground, then now is the time to get the breeding bird season booked in.  Robust surveys, enabling the LPA to fulfil their legal obligation should commence by early May and be completed by July.  You can contact me via this website; or via my LinkedIn profile for further advice.

%d bloggers like this: