Buyers’ Guide: Bat Boxes

Quick links:
Introduction to bat boxes
Bat box design
Bat box materials
Mounting and installing bat boxes
Further information
Accessories and suggested reading

Introduction to bat boxes

Globally there are over 1,400 different species of bat and the UK inhabits 18 of these bat species. Although UK bat species do not create their own roost sites, they will roost in trees and occupy spaces that are created by other animals or decaying trees. But due to the removal of trees and suitable habitat, bats will now often favour human-made roosting sites. The addition of available roost sites is an important way to help prevent the ever-declining UK bat populations.

When choosing which bat box fits your needs, there are a few things to consider – the design of the bat box, the material, and the mounting and installation method. These features can be determined by identifying the target bat species alongside the location and habitat you wish to situate the bat box.

Bat box design

There are several types of bat box design and these can be split into crevice, cavity and hybrid boxes, as well as hibernation, maternity and heated boxes.

Crevice boxes provide a narrower roost space for species that naturally prefer smaller roosts, such as Brandts, Natterers and Pipistrelles, whereas cavity boxes offer a more spacious roost space favoured in general by the larger bat species such as the Greater and Lesser Horseshoe, Barbastelle and Brown Long-eared. Some boxes are designed to be hybrid boxes, meaning they can accommodate both cavity and crevice bat species.

Crevice: Low Profile WoodStone Bat Box

Cavity: Improved Cavity Bat Box 

Hybrid: General Purpose Bat Box 

Hibernation and maternity boxes are similar in their design to provide a warm and safe roosting space. Both boxes tend to be well insulated and larger in size with multiple internal chambers, especially important for maternity boxes that accommodate breeding colonies. There are also heated bat boxes; in these, the temperature is controlled by an external thermostat and can aid with mitigation schemes for the loss of bat maternity sites.

Hibernation: Large Multi Chamber WoodStone Bat Box

Maternity: Causa Maternity Bat Box

Heated: Heated Bat Roost Box

Bat box materials

Bat boxes can be made from a number of different materials; these vary in longevity, durability and often price. The most common materials are wood (often timber); a wood and concrete blend, sometimes known as woodstone or woodcrete; eco-plastic; and concrete. Below is a brief description of each alongside one of our best sellers.

Wooden bat boxes 

  • Lightweight
  • Suitable for externally mounting on both trees and buildings
  • Less robust and shorter longevity than woodstone/woodcrete boxes

Wooden: Double Chamber Bat Box

 

Woodstone and woodcrete bat boxes

  • Very durable and long-lasting
  • Well insulated
  • Can be built in or externally mounted to buildings
  • Heavier than wooden and eco-plastic boxes

Woodstone: Beaumaris Woodstone Bat Box 

 

Eco-plastic bat boxes

  • Sustainably sourced recycled plastic
  • Lighter than woodstone/woodcrete and more durable than wooden boxes
  • Although made from recycled plastic, it is still plastic

Eco-plastic: Integrated Eco Bat Box

 

Concrete bat boxes

  • Very durable
  • Very heavy and can only be built directly into buildings

Concrete: Bat Block

 

 

Mounting and installing bat boxes

Bat boxes fall into externally mounted or integrated boxes. Mounted boxes can be fixed to trees, fences or buildings, and integrated boxes are built directly into the brickwork of a building.

Externally mounted boxes can vary in size and material, and often they are wooden or woodstone/woodcrete. When choosing an externally mounted bat box, it is important to consider the weight of the box and the surface you are mounting the box to. Some are lighter and ideal for mounting on trees, while some are more durable and can be fixed to buildings.

All bat boxes should be positioned in an open and sunny location (ideally boxes should have 6-8 hours of direct sunlight), around 3-6 metres high (the higher the better). It is important to avoid placing these close to any artificial lights such as streetlamps or security lights. External mounted boxes can be attached via a hanger or fixing bracket and it is best to fix using aluminium nails.

Externally mounted: Vivara Pro WoodStone Bat Box

Externally mounted: 2F Schwegler Bat Box (General Purpose)

Integrated bat boxes are self-contained concrete roosts. They are popular with new housing developments as they are unobtrusive and often aesthetically pleasing. The boxes can be built flush to the wall or beneath a rendered surface, and each box has an entry point that must be left exposed for the bats to access the box. Some boxes are plain for rendering or can be custom faced with a chosen brick type which adds to their discreteness.

Integrated: Habibat Bat Box 001

Integrated: Vivara Pro Build-in WoodStone Bat Box

 

There are also pole-mounted bat boxes (sometimes known as rocket boxes). These bat boxes are helpful alternatives in areas where there is nowhere to mount the bat box. An additional benefit is that they ensure that the bat box gains maximum sunlight in shaded areas.

Pole-mounted: Pole Mounted Large Colony Bat Box

 

Lastly, there are bat roost access titles and bricks. These are designed to provide bats with access points within roof or ridge tiles. Some bats will roost in the confined spaces beneath the tiles and others will use the open roof space to roost.

Roost access: Bat Access Tile Set

Further information

We supply a wide range of bat boxes, and we hope this Buyer’s Guide is informative and provides a useful breakdown of the different types available to help you decide which bat boxes best suits your needs.

For further information, please get in contact with us directly and take a look at our blogs including The NHBS Guide to UK Bat Identification and the NHBS Guide: Where to hang and how to maintain your bat box.

Accessories and suggested reading

Heavy Duty Aluminium Nails 

Xtend & Climb Pro Telescopic Ladder

A Miscellany of Bats 

Bat Calls of Britain and Europe: A Guide to Species Identification

 


  • Our full range of bat boxes can be found here.

    If you have any questions about our range or would like some advice on the right product for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

Book Review: Ghosts in the Hedgerow: A Hedgehog Whodunnit

Ghosts in the Hedgerow is the new book by conservation research scientist Dr Tom Moorhouse. His previous book, Elegy for a River, was a heartfelt tribute to UK rivers and included many wonderful tales of his fieldwork adventures beside rivers, fens, lakes and more. He discussed the threats currently facing these habitats and their occupants, the conservation work currently taking place and what he believes is needed to repair the degradation that has occurred. Ghosts in the Hedgerow follows a similar format but instead looks at Britain’s favourite mammal – the hedgehog. 

Moorhouse presents the full story of the hedgehogs’ plight in the face of humanity, following three years of conservation research focusing on the species. This book opens with a classic fictional murder mystery scene: the  guests are gathered around a detective who announces that a murder has occurred, the murder of a hedgehog. This tongue-in-cheek opening with its amusing if perhaps stereotypical cast of characters makes the data-dense introductory chapter easy to read. Snippets of this continue throughout as welcome breaks to the often sombre topics covered. The book is split into five more sections, the first four covering each main ‘suspect’ in the decline of hedgehogs: cars, agriculture, modern gardens, and the badger – a species which is also the focus of conservation efforts. The final section ‘A Murderer Unmasked’ and the afterword ‘One Final Word’ presents Moorhouse’s solution.

Hedgehog by Andrew Wilkinson via Flickr

The second chapter, ‘Driven to Destruction’, highlights the main obstacle behind identifying the significant causes of hedgehog decline and developing an effective solution: the lack of accurate population estimates. It is generally quoted that there were around 36 million individuals in the 1950s. But it is worth noting that this number was based on one ‘survey’ where ten  hedgehogs were seen in ten acres on a single walk, thus estimating a population density of one hedgehog per non-urban acre in Great Britain, regardless of habitat type (excluding upland areas where hedgehogs are known to be scarce). Current estimations of the overall population are based on various smaller surveys of hedgehogs within certain habitats, with that data extrapolated based on the amount of these habitats in the UK. But due to the small number of these habitat surveys and their short study time, each current population estimate has limited reliability. Without accurate and reliable population estimates, the true impact of the various threats is unclear, and the implemention and monitoring of conservation efforts can be jeopardised.

Moorhouse also highlights another issue with hedgehog conservation, or with conservation in general, in chapter three, ‘The Tale of Tommy Brock’, – trade-offs. No conservation effort occurs in a vacuum, just as no species lives in a vacuum. Any efforts made for one species will likely have an impact on another, whether that be positive or negative. Badgers have faced decades of persecution, often being the scapegoat of many agricultural issues. Their populations had declined so much that they were considered uncommon, until the 1980s when concerted efforts were made to protect them. Badgers are now one of the most protected species in the UK and their numbers are up 50-80% (depending on the survey data). Ghosts in the Hedgerow discusses one of the potential environmental trade-offs of this conservation success – the impact on hedgehogs, one of the badgers’ prey items. Hedgehogs tend to avoid badgers, so they are increasingly pushed out of more and more areas as badger numbers increase. This story is not as simple as it first seems, however, as badgers are found not to be the most important factor when studies examined hedgehog densities. Additionally, as Moorhouse points out, badgers and hedgehogs have coexisted for thousands of years; while they may be contributing towards hedgehog decline, it is unlikely that they are the root cause.

Badger by caroline legg via Flickr

Throughout the book, Moorhouse takes these complicated factors and picks them apart, examining the reliability of the data and challenging baseless assumptions. He discusses the impact of hedgerow removal in the 1930s and 40s, the emerging threat of automatic lawnmowers, the problem of enclosed gardens and the reluctance of landowners to cut holes into fences for ‘hedgehog highways’. He includes injuries caused by strimmers, the impact of slug pellet overuse, the massive loss of invertebrate biomass and diversity, and the increasing impacts of agricultural conversion and intensification, and urban expansion. Each one of these stressors may have been survivable on its own if it weren’t for the others. Therefore, it is not one ‘murderer’ but the synergistic interaction between a combination of stressors creating a cumulative effect on hedgehog populations. Moorhouse refers to it as ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

Eco Hedgehog Hole Fence Plate
Hedgehog Highway Sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final sections of Ghosts in the Hedgerow, chapter six ‘A Murderer Unmasked’ and the afterword ‘One Final Word’, is where Moorhouse presents his solution. The important part of any conservation proposal is to make sure, as Moorhouse puts it, it doesn’t result in a “trade-off in human lives”. Moorhouse suggests small lifestyle changes, for instance reducing your meat intake, particularly beef as its production is a major cause of biodiversity loss and global emissions; purchasing food from farms that use less environmentally harmful chemicals or practices; writing to MPs about local ventures such as planting street trees and traffic reductions; recording hedgehog sightings; and allowing your garden to become wilder and more accessible. The book ends on a final word, a collation of advice from several well-known and passionate hedgehog lovers, experts and authors, including David Wembridge, Hugh Warwick and Pat Morris. He believes that these small-scale personal changes, alongside more large-scale governmental and policy changes, such as more environmentally friendly regulations for new building developments, more sustainably managed public green spaces and serious reductions in consumption and food waste, might give hedgehogs the best possible opportunity to thrive.

Ghosts in the Hedgerow is a funny but serious, light-hearted but uncomfortably honest lament for the plight of our favourite mammal and a strong call for widespread conservation to be implemented. It is a well-researched and compelling read, filled with footnotes, puns and anecdotes that bring this topic to life. This truly is the perfect read for anyone who loves hedgehogs, wants to be more wildlife friendly, or is just interested in the complicated problems of conservation efforts in Britain.


Ghosts in the Hedgerow: A Hedgehog Whodunnit
By: Tom Moorhouse
Hardback | March 2023

 

 

 

 

The Big Garden Birdwatch: NHBS Staff Results 2023

Blackbird by Oli Haines

We have reached the end of the 44th Big Garden Birdwatch, which took place between 27th and 29th January. Run by the RSPB, this is one of the largest citizen science surveys in the UK and encourages the public to observe and record the birds in their garden over a period of one hour. In 2022, more than 700,000 people took part recording over 11 million birds. This huge amount of data allows the RSPB to create a comprehensive picture of how our local birds are faring, and to examine changes in both abundance and distribution over time.

If you took part over the weekend, there’s still time to submit your results on the RSPB website. The final date to let them know what you saw is 19th February. Don’t forget, even if you didn’t see anything, it’s still useful information. (If you can’t submit your results online, you can print off the form from the free guide and send it by post).

Even though the Big Garden Birdwatch is over this year, there are still lots of important things you can do to make your garden attractive to birds and other wildlife. Private and public green spaces in the UK cover an area three times bigger than all of the RSPB nature reserves combined, so making these spaces wildlife-friendly is hugely important and significant. Remember to keep putting out fresh food and water for your garden birds, and always remember to keep your feeders, bird tables and bird baths free from disease by cleaning them weekly. See the RSPB website for some helpful information on preventing disease, and check out this great guide from the Wildlife Trusts on cleaning bird feeders and nest boxes.

As always, many of our staff got involved with the Big Garden Birdwatch this year. Scroll down to see what we found and to see some of our pictures. We’d also love to see what you’ve spotted if you took part – let us know in the comments below.

Results

Sabine saw:

Woodpigeon: 2
Robin: 2
Great Tit: 1
Chaffinch: 2
House Sparrow: 1
Magpie: 1
Common Pheasant (male): 1

Woodpigeons by Sabine Lang

Catherine saw:

Starlings: 6
Blackbird: 1

Starlings by Catherine Mitson

Elle saw:

Woodpigeon: 1
Robin: 1
Blackbird: 1

Blackbird by Catherine Mitson

Oliver saw:

Woodpigeon: 2
Blackbird: 3
Dunnock: 1
Long-tailed tit: 1
Jackdaw: 1

Woodpigeon by Catherine Mitson

Luanne saw:

House Sparrow: 5
Robin: 1
Blackbird: 2
Magpie: 2
Woodpigeon: 3

Woodpigeon by Oli Haines

The RSPB

For more information on UK garden birds, the Big Garden Birdwatch and how you can help them, please visit www.rspb.org.uk. Here you will find a wealth of information to help you find and identify UK bird species.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 30th January 2023

Deforestation

Human activity has degraded more than a third of the Amazon rainforest. New research has shown that up to 38% of the forest has been affected by human actions, with the four key disturbances being fire, selective logging (including illegal practices), extreme drought and edge effects (the changes that occur in areas next to deforested areas). The level of degradation is far greater than previously understood and not only has consequences for the climate crisis and biodiversity loss but also Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

More extreme thunderstorms resulting from climate change are likely to cause a greater number and frequency of ‘windthrow’ events in the Amazon rainforest, where trees are uprooted or damaged due to severe weather. These fallen trees then decompose on the forest floor which has a huge impact on the carbon budget and carbon dynamics of the rainforest. Scientists are now working on better models which will help them to understand how forests will fare under different emissions scenarios.

Amazon rainforest by Jay via Flickr
Pollution

England’s coast faces multiple threats from dredging, sewage and pollution. The Environment Agency has warned that dredging will likely increase around the coast, with pollution and sewage adding pressures to coastal ecosystems. In 2021, three quarters of shellfish waters around England failed to meet aspirational standards for environmental protection, with dredging and pollution coming under increased scrutiny following mass die-offs of crabs and lobsters. The findings from the EA report published last week suggest that dredging was unlikely to be the cause but this has been criticised by some scientists. There are now calls for stronger targets to cut pollution, a ban on destructive fishing in marine protected areas, and stricter penalties for sewage discharges.

The UK government has allowed ’emergency’ use of a banned bee-harming pesticide for the third year in a row, just days after the EU tightens protections against emergency deregulations. The neonicotinoid thiamethoxam is lethal to bees, and the authorisation comes just a month after the UK government advocated for a global reduction target at COP15. UK guidance states that emergency applications should not be granted more than once and the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides once again advised against allowing thiamethoxam to be used, but was again ignored by the government.

A new study has found plastic in the scat of fishing cats living near Colombo, Sri Lanka. The plastics varied in size from microplastics to larger macroplastics and were believed to have been ingested via their prey. Only six of the 276 samples taken were found to contain plastics but this is still a concern for the vulnerable species. Further research is needed to assess any potential health impacts on the species.

Shortfin Mako Shark by Mark Conlin via Wikimedia Commons
Extinction Risk

An investigation has found that endangered sharks are being sold as ‘flake’ in South Australian fish and chip shops. According to the study, less than a third of servings meet seafood labelling standards. Out of 96 fish and chip shops and 10 fresh fish retailers, only 29 servings were actually gummy shark, one of only two shark species that Australian Fish Names Standard says can be sold as flake in Australia. Three servings were narrownose smooth-hound, a critically endangered shark; two were the endangered shortfin mako; one was smooth hammerhead, considered vulnerable; 19 were the critically endangered school shark; and 15 servings were whiskery shark.

Gillnets in Bangladesh are a major threat to both the Ganga River dolphin and the Irrawaddy dolphin. Entanglement in nets, along with boat propeller strikes, killed 130 Ganga River dolphins between 2007 and 2016. Since 2002, the manufacture, marketing, import, hoarding, carrying, possession or use of any kind of gillnet is prohibited but they are still widely used by fishers due to their effectiveness at catching large numbers of fish. There are currently only 2,000 Ganga River dolphins and 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins left in Bangladesh.

Research

A study has suggested that reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions in England and Wales by 2050 could lead to an extra 2 million years of life. Many of the proposed policies in the UK will reduce harmful environmental factors such as air pollution, as well as encouraging healthier behaviours such as a balanced diet and exercise. These policies, if implemented, would result in significant reductions in mortality across English and Welsh populations. Retrofitting homes with insulation, reducing red meat consumption, replacing car journeys with walking or cycling, and reducing air pollution could also lead to people living with fewer health conditions.

Dwarf eelgrass by Duartefrade via Wikimedia Commons
Conservation

Seagrass restoration trails have begun in Cornwall. The first round of planting for the project, taking place in the River Fal, has been completed, and is the first attempt by Cornwall Wildlife Trust to restore seagrass meadows. A group of volunteers spent more than 120 hours collecting over 4,000 seeds last summer and planting them. It is hoped that this project will expand to an area 10 times the size used in the first round of trails.

Buyers’ Guide: Sweep and Butterfly Nets

Quick links:
Introduction
Key features
Entry-level choices
Best sellers
Accessories and suggested reading
More information

Introduction

Insect nets are one of the most iconic tools of the entomologist’s kit bag. Around since at least the 1840s, the earliest forms would not have been dissimilar in design or use to those still widely used today. They are, most basically, a deep net bag made of material that is robust but gentle enough not to damage the captured insect, designed to be swept across grass or other vegetation or to catch flying insects as they are spotted. That said, in the last 180 or so years a number of different designs have arisen, making it hard for the aspiring entomologist to choose where to begin.

Sweep nets and butterfly nets – what’s the difference?

Standard Sweep Net

As the name may imply, the main difference between a sweep net and a butterfly net is the group that they are designed to catch, and by extension the way in which they are used. Sweep nets are designed to sample a wide range of insects, from flies to beetles, and are usually swept across the tops of vegetation such as long grass before inspection. Because they often come into contact with woody plants and the like, the frame is reinforced and the net material must be reasonably robust to prevent tearing. This has the drawback of making it a little heavy and coarse, and thereby potentially damaging to the wings of very delicate insects like butterflies.

Lightweight Butterfly Net

Butterfly nets, on the other hand, have bags that are made from a much lighter, finer material that is less likely to damage delicate invertebrates. This makes them suitable for a few groups, including craneflies, but most notably Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Of course, the finer mesh is more delicate and likely to be torn by vegetation or powerful insects such as crickets and large beetles.

For the purpose of this buyer’s guide, the term ‘insect net’ will be used when referring to principles that are true of both butterfly and sweep nets.

Key features

Many entomologists relish the challenge of finding a remote, hitherto unexplored site, far away from the beaten path, with undisturbed habitats where anything might be hiding. The equipment we carry, however, can quickly mount up – an insect net, spare bags, pooter, beating tray, collecting tubes, notebooks, camera, not to mention lunch – and can weigh a lot. Many entomologists, therefore, begin with lightweight, compact gear that can be easily transported.

In our opinion, the qualities that determine a desirable insect net are weight and balance, as these will determine how comfortable the user is during long sampling sessions, and the aperture of the frame, as a larger opening means more air passes through, allowing larger sample sizes. But there is always a trade-off. Lighter frames are easier to carry but are less robust. Telescoping handles are portable but are generally made of metal and therefore heavier than a wooden alternative. Larger apertures, though better for sample size, are much more unwieldy than smaller counterparts. The trick to finding a net that really works for you is finding a balance between all these factors.

Frame shape

Professional Sweep Net

The ‘head’ of an insect net can be designed in a few different ways; different shapes can maximise the area sampled, and foldable and crushable designs can improve portability. Most entry level nets have a frame that is a simple loop of metal – this keeps them lightweight and cost effective, but limits the size that they can practically be.

Beyond entry level, sweep and insect nets tend to adopt more complex designs, but they are generally split into three categories: fixed, folding, and crushable frames. Fixed frames are built using the same principle as simpler nets, but often have a pentagonal shape. This increases the overall aperture size without making the net much bigger, allowing for larger samples. Folding frames are usually roughly triangular, and can be folded to make transport easy.

Professional Sweep Net – Frame Only

Finally, some butterfly nets are made with a crushable frame. The loop is made of a thin strip of metal that can be twisted around on itself, allowing the net to be stored in a small stuff bag. These are extremely portable, but over the course of use tend to become a bit warped. Crushable frames are generally only used for butterfly nets, as the metal is too lightweight to be robust enough for sweeping across vegetation.

Handle design

Spring Frame Butterfly Net

When it comes to nets, there are a few considerations to bear in mind. Early insect nets, for example, tended to have quite long handles. But is this necessary? Sweep netting in particular is often carried out at waist height, within easy reach as you walk through a meadow. Not only is it unnecessary in many cases, it is often counterproductive. The longer the handle, the less control you have over the path the end takes, after all. You can extend your arm to reach an insect that is further away, but it is much harder to accurately catch an insect that is too close for your net. A longer handle will also cause wrist strain more quickly, as the weight of the bag and frame cause the net to become poorly balanced. Most basic nets – particularly sweep nets – are therefore given a short handle to stay light, well balanced and portable.

Long-handled Standard Sweep Net

That said, a longer handle can still be of use. You may want to sample from trees above head-height, for example, or target a group that is very visual and likely to flee before you get close enough for a short-handled net. One such group is Lepidoptera, and for this reason some butterfly enthusiasts prefer butterfly nets with a longer handle. You’ll see long-handled nets used for catching flying invertebrates referred to as ‘aerial nets’ in some literature.

A good option for either net type is a telescopic handle. This allows the user to decide what length is best for them, and affords some flexibility for activities, such as sweeping around trees. They tend to be heavier and less well balanced than non-telescopic alternatives though, and can be prone to breaking over longer periods of heavy use.

Entry-level choices:
Bestsellers:
Accessories and suggested reading:
More information:

The NHBS Guide to UK Butterfly Identification

The NHBS Guide to UK Bumblebee Identification

The NHBS Guide to UK Hoverflies: Part 1

The NHBS Guide to UK Hoverflies: Part 2

Equipment in Focus: Spring Frame Butterfly Net


  • Our full range of sweep nets can be found here. Our range of butterfly nets can be found here.

    If you have any questions about our range or would like some advice on the right product for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

Author Interview with Alick Simmons: Treated Like Animals

Treated Like Animals, by Alick Simmons, provides an incisive look at the way we treat animals and highlights the many ways in which we are complicit in their exploitation – whether that is via the food we eat, the pets we keep as companions, the medicines we take that rely on animal research, or the wildlife that is ‘managed’ on our behalf.

Although many laws are in place that protect the rights of certain animals in certain situations, many of these do not take into account the science behind the animal’s ability to suffer, nor the humaneness of the methods used. In this book, Simmons calls on us to face the facts about how animals are exploited and to form our own, educated opinions about these issues.

Alick Simmons is a veterinarian and a naturalist. During a career spanning 35 years he held the position of the UK Government’s Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer (2007-2016) and the UK Food Standards Agency’s Veterinary Director (2004-2007). In 2015 he began conservation volunteering, and has been involved in survey projects for both waders and cranes. He is currently chair of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the Humane Slaughter Association. He also serves as a Trustee of the Dorset Wildlife Trust and chairs the EPIC disease control steering group on behalf of the Scottish Government.

In this Q&A, we chatted with Alick about the book and about how our opinions on animal welfare and ethics can and should be a priority.


Our attitudes to animal welfare are heavily influenced by our culture, and our opinions and values often reflect those of our families, peers and country/region rather than being based on objective facts (for example, you mention early on in the book the difference in our reactions to eating a lamb compared to a puppy). Do you think this is a significant barrier to people creating an objectively valid personal code of ethics?

Culture influences our attitudes to animals, without a doubt. It varies between countries: most Brits loathe the idea of bull fighting but it has been an important part of popular culture in Spain for centuries. However, attitudes are not fixed and can change over time: 93 per cent of 16- to 24-year-old Spaniards now say they don’t support bullfighting.

Culture also drives differences in attitudes towards certain species: the horse enjoys an exalted status in Britain with several very well-heeled charities dedicated to their support. Nothing similar exists for cattle and sheep. And the idea of eating a horse is simply abhorrent to most people. The law protecting horses in transport, on farm, etc is much tighter than it is for farmed animals. There is no logical explanation for this.

When it comes to research animals, the majority of us reluctantly accept the need to use mice and rats, but are opposed to the use of dogs, cats and primates despite the better data they yield in some fields of research. Yet, the capacity to suffer for these species is very likely to be similar.

So, yes, culture is a barrier to the scientifically and ethically sound treatment of animals. We need to ignore cultural norms and prejudices, give animals the benefit of the doubt and assume that all vertebrates (and a growing number invertebrate species), regardless of their ‘use’ or circumstances, have the capacity to suffer.

In writing this book and considering the issues discussed within, did you find it hard to separate emotion from fact? Or do you think that it is important to not separate the two, since emotion is an important prerequisite to having compassion and empathy for the experience and lives of other species?

We are emotional beings, capable of empathy. Although we can’t directly experience the pain and suffering of other people, it doesn’t stop us wanting to help, to relieve that suffering. Indeed, our emotions, our empathy, it can be argued, are part of the bedrock of our society and why we exhibit altruism.

However, separating emotion from fact is difficult, perhaps impossible. Which is why most of us behave inconsistently when it comes to animals. We appear to care more about the fate of a kitten than that of a rat. Instead of concentrating on the differences, real or imagined, between the two – one is cute, the other carries disease – remember that the nervous systems of both are very similar – if the kitten has a sophisticated brain, has defined pain pathways and the cognitive capacity to suffer, then so does the rat. That doesn’t mean we can’t intervene against the rat if it threatens our health. But it does mean we should strive to reduce the need to intervene and do it humanely when all else fails.

How much of a problem do you consider it to be that we are increasingly reliant on social media as our main source of news and information – much of which may be incorrect, misleading or extremist in nature?

I use Twitter but no other social media. Twitter is, like fire, a great servant but a poor master. A substantial number of the lovely reviews of Treated Like Animals came from people I’ve been interacting with on Twitter. It is unlikely that we would have ‘met’ otherwise. But social media is useless for discussing complex and controversial matters – like animal welfare – because nuance, uncertainty and subtlety are difficult to convey in 280 characters. I try to avoid getting into convoluted interplays because it rarely concludes well. I’m not always successful. However, despite these drawbacks, Twitter is great for signposting to new publications, blog posts and for advertising conferences and even jobs. Use it wisely and be wary of getting drawn into over-simplified arguments. Difficult, complex issues rarely have simple solutions.

Author Alick Simmons has been involved in conservation projects such as crane ringing. Image by A Simmons.

Do you have any concerns that the current pressures in people’s lives, such as the cost of living crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, climate crisis etc., are impacting people so much that they don’t feel as though they have the time, energy or money to prioritise animal rights and ethics? For example, if someone is struggling to make their food budget last the month, then purchasing cheap meat with poor welfare standards may be the most feasible option at that time.

It has been said that a concern for animal welfare is a luxury indulged in by the affluent. I disagree. Society has set animal welfare norms much of which are coded in legislation – which should be observed no matter how straitened our circumstances. The first few of these norms were set when living standards were much lower than they are today. That said, we live in difficult times and with less buying power, people have difficult choices to make. The cheapest meat is chicken and it’s also the world’s favourite. The meat chicken (known as the broiler) may have won the post-WWII race to produce the most abundant animal protein but at what cost? As Chapter 5 of Treated Like Animals details, broiler welfare is generally poor and alternative, less intensive rearing systems meet the birds’ needs better. However, the meat is more expensive. I argue that it is better for you (and the birds) to eat smaller amounts of better quality, slower grown meat than to eat larger amount of cheaper meat where standards are generally poorer. The difference can be made up with proteins from plant-based foods.

In terms of your own personal code of ethics, what troubles you the most? Or, to put it another way, what issue have you found the most difficult to reach a satisfactory position or opinion on?

There are two: First, while I still eat animal products, albeit less and less, the colossal scale of some farming systems used to rear pigs, fish, dairy cows and chickens does bother me. No matter how cleverly designed the buildings, how good the system, these animals cannot be cared for in the way that smaller operations allow. It’s simply not possible. Add to that, given the barren environments which hinder normal behaviour, one has to question whether these systems are acceptable. However, after a lifetime of eating cheese I am finding it difficult to switch to the alternatives.

The second is research. I find it difficult to justify the use of primates for basic neuroscience research (that is, research with no immediate practical benefit) because of its protracted and invasive nature. On the other hand, it is argued, without a comprehensive understanding of the architecture and function of the brain, our ability to eventually tackle degenerative nervous conditions like Alzheimer’s disease will be hindered. I find I can’t reach a position on this.

Simmons dedicates an entire chapter of his book to the ethics surrounding the ‘management’ of wildlife. Image by A Simmons

If, upon reading your book, people would like to take a more active role in promoting positive animal welfare in the UK, what might be the most important and impactful steps for them to consider?

There are two main ways where you can make a difference: First, vote with your feet. Avoid the products which, based on your own ethical position, you object to. Chapter 11 includes my own ethical framework and this can be adapted to your own position. Better still, get engaged and active. For example, join an organisation that campaigns for better animal welfare, get better informed, lobby your MP, etc. Voting with your feet, particularly if it snowballs, does make a difference – you only need to look at how supermarkets change their offer – to free range eggs and a growing range of vegan products, for example. But avoiding certain products won’t be effective against other welfare concerns where consumer-led action has little or no impact. Take for example, the killing of wildlife. Most are killed using methods which are demonstrably inhumane: spring traps, snares, live capture traps, glue traps and poisons. Very few of us see what goes on but take it from me – this is largely unregulated, poorly scrutinised and involves perhaps millions of animals dying in a way that we would not tolerate for research animals, farmed animals or our pets. There are no products to boycott here (except perhaps ‘game’ birds), but you could do a lot worse than getting involved with organisations which lobby government and research alternatives such as the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, OneKind and Humane Society International.

Finally, what’s in store for you next? Do you have any more books planned?

I’d like to see how much of a success this book is first but I am keen to investigate the interface between animal welfare and conservation (and other types of land management). Chapter 7 of Treated Like Animals goes into this relationship but there is a great deal more to explore – for example, how our attitudes to abundant species differ from scarce ones, the demonisation of some species to justify the routine killing of others, and the apparent indifference that society shows to wild rodents. I’ve got a collaborator in mind but he doesn’t know it yet!

 

 


Treated Like Animals by Alick Simmons is due for publication in February 2023. It is published by Pelagic Publishing and available from nhbs.com.

 

This Week in Biodiversity News – 16th January 2023

Pollution

Global NGOs are joining forces to accelerate the campaign to end plastic pollution. The World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP), the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastics Initiative and waste charity WRAP are planning to work together to deliver a circular economy for plastics. This supports international negotiations to deliver a new Plastics Treaty, which began last November and aims to crack down on plastic waste by mid-2025.

Citizen science

Buglife, a conservation charity, is appealing for the public’s help to find a rare beetle in the woodlands of Devon and Cornwall. The blue ground beetle (Carabus intricatus) has only been seen at 15 sites across the south-west of England and south Wales. The species was identified at two new sites on Dartmoor in 2022 but the charity would like people to help find out if it is living in more locations. Buglife is asking for people to take pictures if they think they have spotted the beetle, and to send them to the Dartmoor Blue Ground Beetle project online.

The blue ground beetle by Berard DUPONT via Flickr
Research

A chemical that is used in the production of toilet paper and ‘forever chemicals’ has been found in the bodies of orcas. A team of scientists have analysed tissue samples from six southern resident orcas and six Bigg’s whales that were stranded along the coast of British Columbia from 2006 to 2018. The team, made up of scientists from The Institute for the Ocean and Fisheries, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, found that the chemical accounted for 46% of the total pollutants identified. This toxic substance can interact with the nervous system and influence cognitive function.

A new study has suggested that more than three million years of evolutionary history has been lost in Madagascar due to extinctions. Urgent conservation action is needed to prevent another wave of extinctions as, if all currently threatened mammals also go extinct, it is predicted that it would take more than 20 million years for new species to evolve naturally to replace those lost.

The golden-crowned sifaka, a critically endangered mammal found in northeast Madagascar. Image by Alex Chiang via Flickr.
Conservation

Beavers are set to be released into Hampshire for the first time in 400 years. A pair will be released at Ewhurst Park estate near Basingstoke, which is being restored for nature and sustainable food production. Beavers were given legal protection in England in 2021, formally recognising them as native wildlife. This keystone species will help to create new wetlands on the estate, which will provide new habitats for dozens of bird and insect species.

Over 5,000 fish from endangered species have been released into the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers in Cambodia. The ceremony was held by the Cambodian government and the Wonders of the Mekong project at the Chaktomuk River in Phnom Penh, which is connected to both of the larger rivers. The species released included Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), giant barbs (Catlocarpio siamensis) and striped catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus). It is hoped that they will reproduce and increase the rare fish populations in both rivers.

Dartmoor ponies by Tony Hisgett via Flickr

A new herd of Dartmoor ponies have been brought in to boost the population on Thetford heathland in Norfolk. Fifteen ponies have joined the 119 others that currently live in the area and will help to deliver conservation grazing programmes across the nature reserves, including East Wretham Heath. These selective grazers will create a rich variety of different heights and species of vegetation, helping birds such as nightjars and stone curlews.

Extinction risks

The scientists who led the research into the mass die-off of crabs and lobsters along the north-east coast of England say they have not been questioned by the panel investigating the disaster. The review panel is due to send its findings to ministers this week, but they have also been excluded from examining government processes as part of its inquiry. This is raising questions about the potential limitations and reliability of the forthcoming results.

Queensland, Australia, has been urged to end its shark nets and drum lines programme, as scientists call these lethal methods “ineffective” and inhumane. In 2019, Humane Society International won a legal challenge to stop the use of lethal drum lines in the Great Barrier Reef park, but as of 1st December 2022, the Queensland government has only spent $505,000 on replacing the old drum lines with ‘Smart’ catch-and-alert ones. Last year, 15 humpback whales were caught in shark nets, as Queensland does not remove them during whale migration season.

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2023

Long-tailed tit on peanut feeder. Image by Conall via Flickr.

For the past 44 years the RSPB has been running one of the largest citizen science projects in the world, the Big Garden Birdwatch. Each year in January, more than half a million people take to their gardens, parks and balconies to count the birds they see. This huge dataset has allowed the RSPB to create a comprehensive picture of how our local birds are faring, and to examine changes in both abundance and distribution over this time.

Anyone can sign up to take part, and you don’t need to be a member of the RSPB. All it takes is an hour of your time. This year’s Big Garden Birdwatch will take place from 27th to 29th January, with results expected to be published in April.

How to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch
  1. Sign up on the RSPB website and download the free guide and ID chart.
  2. Find a good spot to watch the birds in your garden or a local park and choose an hour between between Saturday 27th and Monday 29th January.
  3. Have fun identifying the species visiting your garden during that hour and count the maximum number of each species you see at any one time. For example, if you see a group of three house sparrows together and after that another one, the number to submit is three. This method means it is less likely you will count the same birds more than once and makes data analysis easier. Make a note of any other wildlife that you spot as well.
  4. Submit your results on the Big Garden Birdwatch website. Even if you don’t see anything, that’s still useful information. (If you can’t submit your results online, you can print off the form from the free guide and send it by post).
  5. Join in the conversation on RSPB social channels throughout the weekend to see what other nature lovers are spotting across the UK and upload your own pictures and comments using #BigGardenBirdWatch
  6. Look out for the results in April and take pride in having contributed data from your patch.

What did we learn in the 2022 Big Garden Birdwatch?

In 2022, almost 700 thousand people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, submitting records of more than 11 million birds. The most frequently reported species was the house sparrow which received 1.7 million sightings. The second and third spots were held by blue tits and starlings respectively.

Other notable changes include a huge increase in jay sightings, up 73% from 2021. This increase was potentially due to an increase in food availability as 2021 was a notoriously poor year for acorns. A small increase in greenfinch numbers also provided cause for hope. This species has declined by 62% since 1993 due to an outbreak of trichomonosis which is spread through contaminated food and water. It is hoped that this increase in numbers represents the first signs of a recovering population. Results from this year’s Birdwatch will help to give a better picture of how they are faring.

How can I encourage more birds and other wildlife to my garden?

Participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch is the perfect opportunity to observe how wildlife is using your garden and to give you some insights into how you could make your outdoor space even more attractive to wildlife.

Improving your garden for wildlife can be as simple as leaving a patch of long grass; providing native trees or plants that are good for pollinators such as lavender, buddleja and verbena; or leaving a woodpile for insects to shelter in. You can also supply nest boxes for birds, bat boxes for summer roosting bats, access panels and shelters for hedgehogs, shelter for frogs and toads, and of course bird feeders, which will bring a multitude of species to your garden.

Recommended books

Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe

With expanded text and additional colour illustrations, the third edition of the hugely successful Collins Bird Guide is a must for every birdwatcher. The combination of definitive text, up-to-date distribution maps and superb illustrations makes this book the ultimate field guide, essential for every birdwatcher and field trip.

Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide

Covering more than 900 species, and illustrated with over 4,700 photographs, this is the most comprehensive, authoritative and ambitious single-volume photographic guide to Europe’s birds ever produced. The images are stunning to look at, making this a beautiful book to enjoy, as well as an up-to-date and essential source of identification knowledge.

 

Britain’s Birds: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Great Britain and Ireland

A bestselling guide since it was first published, Britain’s Birds has quickly established itself as the go-to photographic identification guide to the birds of Great Britain and Ireland – the most comprehensive, up-to-date, practical and user-friendly book of its kind. Acclaimed by birdwatchers of all kinds, from the beginner to the most experienced.

Park and Garden Birds

This newly updated fold-out guide covers the top 50 birds of gardens and parks, including ponds and rivers. Designed for speedy bird identification with living birds in the garden, the guide features beautiful colour paintings by Chris Shields. Accompanying text on the reverse side covers body size, food, key identification notes and conservation status.

 

RSPB Guide to Birdsong

Birdsong is one of the greatest and most accessible wildlife pleasures that people can experience, even in urban areas. This beautiful, full-colour book and narrated CD of brand new recordings will help people to learn about the sounds and calls of the commonest birds in Britain, and reveal when and why birds make these sounds.

 

A look back over volume 20 of Conservation Land Management

The Winter issue of Conservation Land Management magazine (CLM) landed on our readers’ doormats in December, marking the end of volume 20. Read on to discover what featured in the most recent issue, and some highlights of articles across the entire volume.

The Winter 2022 issue of CLM

Reedbed restoration has benefited a large number of species, the bittern being a classic example; by 1997, ‘booming’ (territorial) males of this species had declined to 11, but this has now increased to over 200. Various techniques and machinery are used to manage reedbed habitats, and in this article Graham White and Steve Hughes provide an overview of the different methods and key strategic issues, such as what to do with cuttings, that need to be considered for the future.

Up until 2010, Nethergill Farm, in the Yorkshire Dales, was managed for intensive sheep rearing. Now under new owners, the current management ethos is to promote biodiversity. Gordon Haycock describes how, in addition to other ecological restoration work, a change to reduce sheep stocking densities and introduce free-roaming cattle across the farm has benefited biodiversity and increased the area of Priority Habitats, such as blanket bog and lowland meadow.

In 1965, the Nature Conservation Review was initiated by the Nature Conservancy, with the aim to identify and assess areas important to nature conservation in the UK. In the 1960s/70s, as part of the review, 26 calcareous grasslands in Dorset were surveyed, and in 2018/19, nearly half a century later, six of these were surveyed again. Peter Hawes et al. compare the results of the two surveys, with the aim of determining if the vegetation had markedly changed during the time between surveys, and discuss the gains and losses that have been made.

During the recent political turmoil in the UK, there were rumours that England’s new agri-environment scheme, Environmental Land Management (ELM), would be scrapped in favour of a return to area-based payments. Thankfully, the future of ELM is now looking more certain, but there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the details. In light of this, Alice Groom provides the latest on farming policy development in England, and also in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The selection process behind the formal designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England is based entirely on the compartmentalisation of a site based on the habitat types within it and the rarity of the species found there. Lacking from this process, however, is consideration of habitat connectivity and the ecosystem services that these habitats provide. In the context of two peat bogs in the north of England, one of which is currently threatened by development, Roger Meade asks if the current selection process is up to scratch.

Highlights from volume 20

This volume has included some fantastic articles, from conservation efforts tailored to specific species to wider management approaches and techniques. Below is a selection of articles from 2022:

Spring 20.1

· Habitat translocations: risks, advantages and key considerations – John Box explains the possible risks and potential benefits of habitat translocations, and sets out the key considerations of this approach.

· Conserving breeding goldeneye in Scotland through nestbox construction – Peter Cosgrove et al. share their observations and lessons learnt from constructing and installing nestboxes for the rare goldeneye duck along the River Spey.

· Environmental DNA for ecologists – Dr Helen Rees provides an overview of eDNA analysis and demonstrates how ecologists can use this technique in conservation.

Summer 20.2

· A guide to conservation land management and greenhouse gas emissions – Malcolm Ausden and Rob Field describe how different habitats and their maintenance impact the climate, and highlight the management practices that provide the greatest climate benefits.

· Viewpoint: Dams without beavers: could Beaver Dam Analogues yield benefits in the UK? While we wait for beavers to become more widespread in the UK, Richard Fleming argues that we need to replicate the benefits of natural beaver dams through the use of Beaver Dam Analogues.

Autumn 20.3

· Eleven years of manual eradication of Japanese knotweed – Claire Malone-Lee reflects on 11 years of manual control of Japanese knotweed in Aston’s Eyot nature reserve, in east Oxford, and demonstrates that it is possible, particularly on small sites or where knotweed is not overly dominant, to successfully eradicate this troublesome invasive without the use of herbicides.

· Time to rewet, replant and restore Yorkshire’s peatlands – Jenny Sharman describes the work of the Yorkshire Peatland Partnership and the process of peatland restoration in Yorkshire where signs of recovery have quickly become apparent.

Three years after peatland restoration began. Jenny Sharman/YPP

Twenty years of CLM

The end of volume 20 is an important milestone for CLM, marking its 20th year in print. Throughout this time, the magazine has strived to showcase innovative conservation projects, novel management techniques and personal experiences and insights of those working on the ground. Volume 21 is set to feature all of this and more, including a brand new series on habitat management for invertebrates and a look at some of the restoration approaches used in marine conservation.

CLM is published four times a year in March, June, September and December, and is available by subscription only, delivered straight to your door. Subscriptions start from £22 per year. If you would like to read any of these articles, back issues are also available to purchase individually (subject to availability).

If you are involved in a conservation project and think your experiences could be useful to other practitioners, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact us if you are interested in writing for CLM – we will be happy to discuss your ideas with you.

Phenology Series: Winter

Winter is the toughest time of year for wildlife – cold temperatures and short days mean that finding enough food to keep warm and survive becomes a challenging job. Some animals use this time to enter a period of hibernation or torpor to preserve energy for when conditions improve, while others rely on stashes of food or body fat, stored away during the previous seasons.

Much of our vegetation has entered a period of dormancy, with growth slowing down and most trees and shrubs remaining bare until the spring. It would be easy to assume that nothing much is happening in the wild, but there are still amazing sights to be seen for the intrepid wildlife watcher who isn’t afraid to venture outside.

This is the fourth and final installment in our seasonal phenology series where you can explore a carefully chosen collection of ID blogs, books, equipment and events, all designed to help you make the most of a winter outside. Check out our springsummer and autumn blogs for inspiration during the rest of the year.


Identification guides:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What you might see:

• During the winter, mountain hares turn white to blend in with the snow that would historically have been much more common and persistent during this time of year. For keen wildlife watchers, this makes November to April the best time to see them, as they stand out clearly from a snow-free landscape. Also known as the blue hare, they are present in Scotland and the north of England and Wales, and are most commonly found on heathland where they can be seen bounding across the landscape.

• As wild food sources become scarce throughout the colder months, elusive red squirrels may be increasingly tempted by garden peanut feeders, providing us with a perfect chance for a close-up viewing. Where they are present in the wild, bare trees can make winter a great time to spot these delightful mammals.

• Tawny owls breed very early in the year, meaning that their loud mating calls can be heard from late autumn and through the winter months. Their territorial calls are very easy to recognise and provide a wonderful accompaniment to an early morning winter walk.

• Ducks and other wildfowl flock together in huge numbers during the winter for their nesting season, and are often responsible for a cacophony of sound around lakes and ponds. The appearance of winter plumage in male ducks also makes them a spectacular sight, and it is now that the differences between male and female birds become most apparent.

• At the same time as we say goodbye to many of our summer migrants, we also welcome to our shores a number of species which arrive to spend the winter away from colder regions. Geese, swans and ducks flock here from as far away as Canada, Russia and Iceland. The numbers of some of our resident species, such as starlings, chaffinches and robins, may also be boosted by additional migrants.


Activities:

 


Upcoming events:

Big Schools Birdwatch – 6th January – 20th February
Big Garden Birdwatch – 27th to 29th January
World Wetlands Day – 2nd February
Global Recycling Day – 18th March
First Day of Spring – 20th March


Essential books and equipment:

The Field Key to Winter Twigs

The Field Key to Winter Twigs offers a striking new approach to the identification of over 400 wild or planted trees, shrubs and woody climbers found in the British Isles. It allows any diligent enthusiast to reliably name a woody plant, normally within three turns of a page.

Guide to Winter Coastal Birds

This laminated fold-out chart features 44 of the birds you can see along the coastline of the UK in the winter. From long-legged waders to gulls, geese and shore ducks, all birds are shown in the adult winter plumage with separate images for males, females and juveniles.

 

Guide to the Seasons

This fold-out FSC chart aids with the identification of different species of flora and fauna through each season, including winter. From catkins in spring to redwings in winter, this portable guide is essential for exploring wildlife and nature throughout the year. This is especially suitable for younger children.

 

Wild Winter

John D. Burns sets out to rediscover Scotland’s mountains, remote places and wildlife in the darkest and stormiest months. In Wild Winter, he traverses the country from the mouth of the River Ness to the Isle of Mull, from remote Sutherland to the Caingorns, in search of rutting red deer, pupping seals, minke whales, beavers, pine martens, mountain hares and otters.

A Field Guide to Bryophytes

This field guide covers 133 species of moss and liverwort encountered in most UK habitats, using non-specialist terms to help identify them. Twelve ‘flow-charts’ help identify species by the habitat they occur in. All proceeds from the sales go to The Species Recovery Trust.

Winter Birds

In this stunning book, Lars Jonsson celebrates and explores the beauty of the birds that surround him during the Swedish winter months. Inspired by the desolate, wintry landscapes, the dazzling light and the stark contrast of colours he observes against the snow, Jonsson has created an unparalleled collection.

Kite Lynx HD+ Binoculars

Lynx HD+ binoculars have unique, class-leading optical characteristics in an exceptionally lightweight and compact body. They are perfect for surveying as it is easy to locate even fast moving animals and features in large landscapes.

Hawke Optics Nature-Trek Spotting Scope

A high quality yet economical choice for the keen wildlife watcher. Housed in a tough polycarbonate body, fully multi-coated optics help to produce sharp images whilst BAK-4 porro prisms ensure intense colour and contrast.

Petzl Actik Core Headtorch

The Petzl Actik Core is a carefully designed professional headtorch with both white and red light options.

 

Guardian Seed Feeder

This feeder includes a plastic seed feeder and an exterior cage designed to keep out squirrels and larger birds. The feeder is constructed from plastic with a metal lid and has plastic perching rings, which enable birds to feed in a natural forward facing position.