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Posts Tagged ‘invertebrate 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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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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Dear Reader!

It has been quite a time since I last put finger to keyboard and wrote anything on this Blog.  In fact, it has been 109 days; or 3 months, 18 days; or 2,616 hours since I last published anything.  That is quite a gap and quite a long time.  For a start, I am older (and may be wiser)!  And I am guessing you are too, in both departments of course!

In this intervening period, I have not been idle; indeed, I have been busy finishing up identification and report writing from the 2014 survey season.  And I have a fair amount of identification but not much report writing left.  For example, in one of my cupboards, I have two boxes containing many tens of vials with spiders awaiting identification that were collected on brownfield sites in England and Wales, which I am working on for Buglife.  Brownfield sites can be very important for invertebrates of many kinds and one brownfield site is incredibly important for one spider species – it is, to the best of our knowledge, one of only two places on Earth where this species lives.  The other place (not this one) is also a quarry and is also in Plymouth, Devon.  How many residents of Plymouth know that they share their city with a Critically Endangered spider?

The purpose of mentioning Nothophantes horridus is not to say it is wrong to build on brownfield sites.  Far from it as there is clearly a need and an opportunity to build a lot of houses (for example) on such sites.  My purpose is to convey that it is important to consider ecology and specifically not just the European Protected Species (EPS) that may be present.  N. horridus is not an EPS though it is a UK Priority species (Species of Principal Importance), despite its obvious rarity and significance.  So whilst bats and great crested newts may get a lot of attention due to their legal status, they may not be the rarest species present.  N. horridus is obviously an extreme example; but there are many other invertebrates including pollinators that can depend to varying extents on brownfield land as this Government policy correctly points out.

Typical view of a brownfield site (England) with mosaic of habitats

Typical view of a brownfield site (England) with mosaic of habitats and opportunities for invertebrates.

As I write this in mid-January, with the threat of snowfall and cold weather on the (western) horizon, invertebrates may not be on the forefront of many ecologists’ minds.  I am imagining that in offices up and down the country, ecologists are checking their bat detectors, making sure the batteries in their torches are in working order and thinking about how many bottle-traps are going to be needed/ need replacing for the 2015 survey season.

But, it would be a very good idea to think about invertebrate surveys too as some, just like N. horridus, are early spring species, necessitating surveys in March and April (in this instance).  So if you have some sites anywhere in the UK which you think could be important for invertebrates, please give me a call.  To help you decide, Buglife has produced some useful illustrated documents on their Brownfield Hub and Defra has produced a more technical document here.  Even if your site is some distance from Leeds, please do give me a call as I could easily put you in touch with a local competent entomologist and act as a single point of contact.

Disused quarries can provide a range of habitat niches for invertebrates including the quarry face (seepage zones) as well as the floor).

Disused quarries can provide a range of habitat niches for invertebrates including the quarry face (seepage zones) as well as the floor.

March is about 6 weeks away.  Not long.  Less time than since I last wrote a blog.

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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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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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