The biodegradable dormouse tube trial

Hazel Dormouse by Frank Vassen via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
The dormouse nest tube problem

At NHBS, the environmental impact of our products, both in terms of their manufacture and eventual disposal, is at the heart of our manufacturing business. Of equal importance is the practicality of their design and how fit for purpose they are for their users. With this in mind, we are always looking for ways to both design new and improve existing products based on current research and feedback from our customers.

Last year, we began to apply this thinking to our dormouse nest tubes. We had some concerns about any tubes that might be left behind at survey sites, thus polluting woodlands with unwanted plastic. We were also thinking ahead to the disposal of tubes that, following years of use outside, are no longer fit for purpose and which must then be thrown away.

With this in mind, our manufacturing team began developing an alternative, biodegradable version of our dormouse nest tubes.

The current plastic dormouse nest tube
A new environmentally friendly design

Dormouse tubes consist of a plastic sleeve into which slides a wooden tray that also serves to seal one end when in place. These tubes create a dark and narrow enclosure that is ideal for dormice to build their nests. By strapping a number of these tubes to horizontal branches in a suitable woodland, they can be used to determine the presence of dormice by periodically inspecting them for evidence of nests and/or inhabitants. As this is a standard survey technique within the UK, our new, environmentally friendly dormouse tubes would need to be able to be used in the same way.

Our new design would use the same wooden inserts in combination with a modified sleeve constructed from Earthboard. Earthboard is a plastic-free biodegradable material, often used to make tree guards. It is coated with a non-toxic water repellent coating which makes it suitable for use outside, lasting for up to two years before decomposing naturally. Critically, being plastic-free, Earthboard does not shed microplastics into the environment.

Its relatively slow breakdown means that Earthboard would be ideal for our purposes. It would last for more than a single survey season in the field and, if accidentally left outside, would decompose naturally over time. Any tubes that fell to the ground would take around 16-20 weeks to break down and, at the end of the season, they could be recycled in the same way as cardboard (although they are not suitable for home composting due to their relatively slow rate of natural decomposition).

In 2023, our manufacturing team produced a number of Earthboard sleeves that were compatible with our existing wooden inserts. These were sent to several of our customers and associates who kindly agreed to undertake some field tests during the 2023 survey season.

Initial field tests

At the end of the dormouse survey season, our field testers helpfully provided us with lots of feedback. Unfortunately, not all of it was good. While most were broadly positive about the intention of the product, there were some significant problems.

The most serious of these was that, after a short amount of time in the field, deterioration by the elements meant that the tube was no longer a good fit for the wooden insert. The top of the plastic tube became curved, thus creating a space into which light, draughts and moisture could enter, making the tubes much less desirable to dormice as a nesting location. Similarly, the relatively pale colour of the Earthboard meant that the interior was not as dark as that of the original plastic tubes, again making it less attractive to dormice.

After a period in the field the Earthboard tube proved a poor fit for the wooden insert and allowed light and draughts to enter the nesting space.

A further concern related to how dormouse tubes are generally used. It is typical for ecologists to collect all of their tubes at the end of the survey season and re-use them in subsequent years. It is unusual for tubes to be left in the field, unless they cannot be located for any reason. Equally, there is a cost factor involved. Although Earthboard is suitable for recycling with cardboard via kerbside waste collections, which makes their disposal preferable to traditional plastic tubes, the need to purchase new sleeves at the beginning of each season isn’t an attractive option for most ecologists.

So, what next?

Due to the lack of positive feedback, along with concerns about the practicalities and economics of these biodegradable dormouse tubes, we have decided not to continue with their development. Despite the fact that this particular project didn’t ultimately lead anywhere, however, we are incredibly proud of our continuing endeavours to improve our products and make sure they are as user friendly and environmentally responsible as possible.

We would like to thank everyone that was involved in field testing this product and taking the time to provide us with such valuable feedback. It is only through constant communication and cooperation with our valued customers that we can continue to design, manufacture and provide such high-quality products and support conservationists worldwide.

Echo Meter Touch – Upgrading for iOS

Wildlife Acoustics recently announced that the Echo Meter Touch (Standard and Professional versions), can now be upgraded so that they can be used with Apple iOS devices. There are a few important steps to take when upgrading. 

Which Apple Devices can be used? 

Wildlife Acoustics have stated that only new Apple devices that have a native USB-C connector on them will work. This means that any lightning connector-based devices will not work with the upgraded EMT even if you have a lightning to USB-C cable. If you have an iPhone 15 (all versions) or later you can use the upgraded Echo Meter Touch. 

How to upgrade your Echo Meter Touch

Firstly, make sure you have the EMT with the USB-C connector. Micro-USB will not work with this upgrade specifically for Apple devices. Here are the steps you have to take: 

1. Check to make sure you have the latest Wildlife Acoustics app installed on your Android Device. When you update the app it should display an announcement telling you that Apple is supported.

2. Plug your EMT into the Android device.

3. Using the menu found in the top left corner of the screen (displayed as three horizontal bars). Select Settings.

4. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the Settings menu, and select Advanced Settings. 

At this stage the app will tell you what version of firmware you have on your EMT. If it is version 2 or later, then you do not need to update to get iOS compatibility. However if there is a new firmware update, even if your device has version 2.0 or later, you should update the EMT to get the best possible experience from the EMT. 

5. If the EMT is shown as having version 1.3 the app will offer you a later version of firmware.

6. Select Update Module Firmware – DO NOT UNPLUG YOUR EMT Device

7. Let the app perform the upgrade and is will display the notice saying a firmware upgrade has been successful. 

8. Once, this appears, remove your EMT from the Android device, and re-insert it to double check the device is updated. 

Now that you have accomplished the firmware update you should insert the EMT into your Apple device. If you have downloaded the Wildlife Acoustics app to the Apple device it should function correctly. 


NHBS manufacturing – a year in review

2023 proved to be a pivotal year for the NHBS manufacturing team, one in which we enjoyed new and continued partnerships with key organisations, overhauled the NHBS Harp Trap with the aid of leading UK ecologists, and continued to refine our existing products. 

A glimpse into the manufacturing workshop at the NHBS offices in Totnes, Devon.

Fine tuning the NHBS Moth Trap 

Since its introduction in late 2019, the NHBS Moth Trap has been a consistent favourite with hobbyists and professionals alike. However, a manufacturing team consistently motivated to improve our products and with an ear to the ground for customer feedback resulted in an evolution of the trap in 2023. The new design is more robust, lighter and more cost-effective.  

By changing the design of the lamp support, our manufacturing team were able to reduce the amount of steel used, saving on both weight and cost. We also upgraded the material used for the moth trap panels to a more rigid and environmentally friendly material, constructed from 70% recycled plastic. Finally, our team developed a system that allows the NHBS Moth Trap to run off a 12V battery using an inverter kit. A full night’s trapping is now possible using a single battery. 

The NHBS Moth Trap was designed in consultation with Butterfly Conservation. NHBS is proud to support the excellent work they carry out with each sale of the trap. 

A Professional Hand Net frame in progress.

Nets for every occasion 

There is a sense of pride in the development of the iconic orange banded nets that NHBS produce. Without knowing it, you may have seen them in action on prime-time television shows including Springwatch and the BBC flagship series Earth that featured Chris Packham using an NHBS plankton net in the first episode.  

Our bestselling Professional Hand Net also forms a key part of the Riverfly Partnership approved survey kit. Our relationship with the Riverfly Partnership dates back to when NHBS originally acquired EFE & GB Nets in 2016, and we are pleased to further support the Partnership by making a donation to them with each sale of the kit. You can find out more about the great work the Riverfly Partnership are doing in our previous blog and on their website. 

Conservation research and monitoring 

At NHBS we are experienced in working with our customers to either develop or improve equipment for use in monitoring wildlife. Where necessary we seek out experts who can examine the design of the product and give feedback on improvements; not only to meet project requirements, but also to ensure the design is sympathetic to the wildlife that are subject to the equipment’s use.  

Early in 2023, we wanted to overhaul our Three Bank Harp Trap and so reached out to respected and experienced ecologist Neil Middleton of Batability. Neil and his team gave crucial feedback on the trap’s existing design and highlighted areas where improvements could be made. This allowed our manufacturing team to refine the design so that it maximised the safety of the bats that were caught, as well as making it easier for ecologists to use. By listening to the experts and users and making their recommended changes to the design, we now have a product that we are exceptionally proud of. 

A visiting team from LIST collaborate with NHBS engineers on the exciting NEWTCAM project.

NHBS manufacturing in 2024 

This year promises to be full of exciting developments, including the NEWTCAM project that NHBS is working on in collaboration with the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST).  As well as providing a novel approach to monitoring amphibians, NEWTCAM represents a very different type of technology for our manufacturing team, giving them a chance to learn valuable skills which can be utilised in future products. The first units are currently in production and will be made available to early users for field testing from spring 2024. 

At NHBS we are committed to finding the best materials and are constantly working to improve the sustainability of the production methods we use. If you have a project or product you think we could help with, please do not hesitate to get in touch using our contact form. 

Made in Britain Logo

We are also pleased to announce that we have been awarded the use of the Made in Britain logo for all product manufactured in our NHBS workshop in Devon.

Made in Britain logo showing the Union Jack flag and grey text saying 'Made in Britain'.