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Posts Tagged ‘Ecology Surveys’

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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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.

SONY DSC

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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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.

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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.

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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)

(more…)

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Halfway through 2014…who’d have thought it?

Spring and the early part of summer has been a really busy period for me.  In 2012 and 2013, I was busy surveying for HS2 in the Midlands; so I was wondering what 2014 would be like with no major infrastructure project to be working on.  Would I be busy?

Well, after a quiet start, since late April I have been very busy – bird surveys, invertebrate surveys and botanical surveys.  Yorkshire, Kent, West Midlands, Greater Manchester.  That is what I have been busy doing and where I have been busy doing it.

And if you want to read more, you can do so by clicking on the image below.

Spring and Summer 2014 Newsletter

Spring and Summer 2014 Newsletter

And 2014 will continue to be busy.  I will be working with a team of botanists surveying long-term monitoring plots in heathland and grassland habitat communities, continue with invertebrate surveys (and the subsequent identification) for EIAs and the ongoing research on Semljicola caliginosus.  Talking of which, the Tour de France’s Grand Depart is passing by one of the sites where this species was recorded in 2013 – the Buttertubs Pass.  So, if you intend to watch the race, as the cyclists whizz (or puff?) up the pass, remember, there is a really rare spider up there too!  I’ve been advising Natural England where to put up protective fences to prevent any spectators trampling on the sensitive vegetation.

But I am now thinking about autumn 2014 and winter 2014/ 2015.  And if you are a developer, you should be too!

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