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Posts Tagged ‘Bird surveys’

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.

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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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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.

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Followers of my blog will have noticed that in the last six months, there have been relatively few entries.  A consequence of being relatively busy in the field surveying and then subsequently relatively busy at my desk.  Opportunities are definitely increasing and I have already been asked to provide scopes of work for surveys in 2015.  Well done to those clients who are thinking ahead.  And perhaps this blog will also chivvy on those who are mulling over whether they ought to be thinking ahead.  Of course, in my view, you should, you must, you really ought to!

September is typically a very busy month as all of a sudden, lots of developers suddenly remember to get those ecology surveys completed before what is universally known as October.  October marks the beginning of what is traditionally viewed as the end of the survey season.  Though it is not necessarily the end of a survey season.  It can mark the beginning.

Wintering Bird Surveys

For example, winter bird surveys should start in October, especially if golden plover are an important species to consider.  Large developments on agricultural land such as housing should consider these species, especially if your site is within a few kilometres of the South Pennines Special Protected Area (as an example).  A straightforward desk study as part of the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal should identify the potential for this species and farmland birds in general on any given site.  And as farmland birds are included on Defra’s environmental key performance indicators, there is a clear and justifiable reason for assessing development impacts on farmland bird communities.

Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) smear themselves across lowland England in winter; often in flocks.

Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) smear themselves across lowland England in winter (often in flocks) within agricultural landscapes.  Surveys for these and other farmland birds should be completed to identify the impacts and assess the potential effects on populations.

Invertebrate Appraisal Surveys

Whilst October marks the beginning of winter bird surveys, it normally ends the invertebrate survey season.  I say normally, because in some instances, surveys can continue through he autumn and in to October (and beyond).  For instance, I am currently surveying for the rare upland money-spider, Semljicola caliginosus in the Northumberland Border Mires and this remains active during this period.

However, for invertebrates, it can also pay to think ahead.  Large sites, just like those requiring winter bird surveys, may also benefit from invertebrate appraisal surveys.  An invertebrate site appraisal is useful on large sites where there may be pockets of habitat justifying survey within a much wider landscape of relatively low interest habitat.  This is illustrated based on a recent paper published on the importance of hedgerows for Diptera (flies) within an agricultural landscape.  In this study, the authors estimated that in a single hedge, over 1,000 species were considered to be present; of which over 200 depended on it for breeding.  In a seperate paper, hedges were surveyed and large numbers of invertebrate species associated with dead wood were recorded, thereby suggesting that linear wooded habitats could support important faunas more normally associated with woodlands.  Context is important here, for example, proximity and connectivity to woodlands, presence of semi-natural grasslands and wetland features such as field ponds.  A hedge survey to comply with the Hedgerow Regulations won’t necessarily consider the value the feature has for invertebrates.  For example, an unimportant hedge (within the meaning of the Regulations) may still be important for invertebrates if it has a couple of reasonably large (‘mature’) trees that are either dead; or contain dead wood.  Where there is a network of hedges with such features, cumulatively, they may support a noteworthy saproxylic (‘dead-wood’) fauna.

Dead tree in hedge

A dead tree in an otherwise ‘unimportant’ hedge can provide habitat for saproxylic invertebrates. An invertebrate appraisal of a large site can identify features which may otherwise be missed; or concluded to be of negligible value for other groups (e.g.bats)

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Spring 2014 seems a long way off doesn’t it?  Especially if you are in areas that are or have been subjected to flooding.  The dark forboding skies, omni-present rainfall and temperatures in single digits suggest that, like Narnia, winter has still got its grip on the land.

Yet stop…(click on the image)…listen…and you may well here this, outside your office, in your garden or onthe way to get your lunchtime sandwich:

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

It is the song of the familiar robin; which in mainland Britain, is the sub-species melophilus – rather apt?

Robins are one of the first birds to sing in the new year.  On sunny days, just like today when I am writing this, robins can be heard singing from an exposed tree branch or similar perch with a good vantage point.  Tune your ears in to the song of the robin after Christmas (and you can use the Christmas image of robins to remind you to tune in to the song in the New Year!) and it will act as a natural alarm clock…time to think about ecology surveys!

So, please take a look at my new service sheet and think about whether I can help your project get off to a good start in 2014.  It’s not rocket science and similarly, it isn’t rock’n roll.  But may be, it is…

Rockin’ Robin!!

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Well, that was the summer that nearly wasn’t; to almost paraphrase a 1960s satire.

I’m writing this in my new office, under the rain and overlooking my garden.  A much better view than the one I had previously.

My old office view (left) and my new one (right)

The garden has a pond (with newts, but not these ones, and frogs in), which is planted up with native flora – purple loosestrife, brooklime, gypsywort, yellow-flag, common fleabane, cuckoo-flower and greater bird’s-foot trefoil…to name but seven species.  Surrounding the pond is a ‘meadow’; well, it is half the lawn that is left uncut between April and approximately September, which I’ve supplemented with some other native species, such as common bird’s-foot trefoil, common knapweed, cowslip, ox-eye daisy and meadow buttercup.  If I had my way entirely, I’d have stripped off the lawn, inverted the soil and sown a wildflower meadow mix…but I had to compromise, such is married life!

The garden is now my daughter’s playground so the meadow is subjected to a little more trampling than usual, and the snails get a bit more harassed and the little frogs get a good work out as my daughter practices being an ecologist…but she is only three and it is great to know that she won’t be suffering from nature defecit-disorder.  And in no more than two weeks time, she’ll be joined by a baby brother or sister…so I may be preoccupied during the last few days of September and the first week or so in October.

In the meantime, I hope to be able to spend a little more time writing; it’s been a while since I last wrote a technical blog and there has been much to write about – those of you that read my summer newsletter will recall that I mentioned the Good Practice Guidance for Green Infrastructure, which was published in July 2012; or the European Biodiversity Standard; and there is this website too which is well-worth a look.  My lack of writing has largely been due to a lot of survey work, which has included Phase 1 habitat, invertebrate and birds, with a little bit of helping out on nocturnal (and dawn) bat surveying.  My autumn and winter is looking to be reasonably busy too, if some of the proposals come to fruition; but that doesn’t mean to say I wouldn’t want more!

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August.  The eighth month of the year and a period that many look forward to as a time to take a break, enjoy the British weather (not!) and perhaps seek some countryside.  Somewhere to relax, somewhere to play, somewhere to recharge the batteries.  And after the heady days of July with its golds, silvers and bronzes, it is not long before another season of golds and bronzes descends…autumn.  It is perhaps, an inbetween month?

Readers of this blog will have perhaps been disappointed to have been unable to read anything new since mid-July; which as my last couple of entries have suggested, is due to me being out a lot surveying.  This suggestion is entirely accurate as I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time in the British countryside (when not in the French countryside) undertaking various surveys, in particular breeding birds, Phase 1 habitat and invertebrates.  And it is looking like it will remain accurate throughout August and in to September (but please do call me if you need (or think you need) a survey) – contact details here.

August is also, in the political calendar, a period of relative inactivity but in the last week or so, there has been some interesting ideas (or tentative suggestions) for changes to our planning regime.  Now, readers will recall a regular series of blogs on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (e.g. see here, here and here…oh go on, here too) that were written from summer 2011 until the NPPF’s publication in March 2012.  Well, the collapse of Lord’s reform, not a subject that many ecologists will have thought would impact their jobs, has left room for a new Bill, with a working title of Economic Regeneration; and it is said that George Osborne, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander are looking to relax the protection afforded to the greenbelt.  It will be worth paying attention to Andrew Lainton’s blog here to keep up to date with developments.  However, it is my prediction that any rule changes will surely affect more Conservative MPs (than Labour) as their constituencies probably contain more greenbelt.  I suspect this could be the ‘next debate’ relating to planning regulation in the UK.  But it could also raise the question from a biodiversity and nature conservation perspective: brownfield versus greenfield.

A typical view of the English countryside in late August. Potentially under threat if the protection afforded to the greenbelt is relaxed…but is it biologically diverse?

And finally, please take a look at my latest client newsletter and think about what surveys you could require in autumn and winter – bird surveys for your wind farm development, especially if your site is located within a migration route; or ecology walkovers to put you in an informed position for spring 2013.  Remember…Think! Act! Commission! Ecology!

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Horizon scanning.  It can mean different things to different people.

An ornithologist for example, may scan the horizon to spot a distant bird of prey (raptor) or flock of waders, identify the species, annotate a map and estimate their height (absolutely or in height bands) and the time spent (e.g in 15 second intervals) at each height/ height band.  Of course, they could be doing this to support a potential wind farm/ turbine application.  It is part of the suite of ornithological and ecological surveys necessary in many instances to support such a planning application; and in this instance, it is probably part of a series of vantage point surveys.

For someone else, for example, a meteorologist, horizon scanning may be watching out for impending changes in the weather.

And for a pilot, the failure to horizon scan may result in this.

But in all seriousness, horizon scanning is an important element of running a business.  Analysing trends to identify future opportunities – there is even a law (Moore’s Law) to describe this.

So what relevance does this have to ecology and developers? (more…)

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