Supplier Interview: Fraser Rush of Third Wheel Ringing Supplies

Fraser-RushTell us a little about your organisation and how you got started.

Third Wheel Ringing Supplies has been trading for about two years and comprises myself and my wife, Mary. We make a small range of equipment for ringers, specialising in traps and particularly trying to fill gaps in the market. Traditionally much of this sort of equipment has either been knocked together by ringers themselves or imported (expensively) from Europe or North America.

Our range is still very small, but it is gradually expanding as we develop more products. Product development is very slow however as, with bird safety being so important, any new product has to be extensively tested before it can be offered for sale. Nevertheless a slightly expanded product range should be launched in the coming months. Our manufacturing ethos is based on quality; never knowingly making sub-standard equipment in the quest for cheaper production costs. Hence our products are not the cheapest available, but they might be the best.

The business started when I took voluntary redundancy from my job. Having worked for (among others) The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and Local Authorities as a nature reserves manager for 30 years, I was ready for a change. I’ve always liked making things and have a good grounding in engineering which, together with my interest in bird ringing, led onto me making various bits of ringing equipment for my own use and thence onto a small business, making equipment for other ringers.

Why Third Wheel? Well, we had to call it something and, having a slight obsession with classic motorcycles, particularly those with sidecars, the name seemed to fit us as a family.

What challenges do you face as an organisation working in the ecology sector?

One of our biggest challenges has been to persuade ringers not to rely so heavily on mist nets all the time. Although mist nets are very effective for many species and situations, they still have their limitations and traps can often be just as effective or, for some species, the only method of capture. Increasing numbers of ringers are starting to appreciate the value of different trap designs and, as traps form the mainstay of our business, we see this as a good thing!

High Flier Mist Net Support System
Third Wheel’s High Flier Mist Net Support System

What do you consider the most important achievement of your organisation in recent years?

On a purely personal level, Third Wheel’s most important achievement has been that, after only two years of trading, it seems to be working as a business. Although I have a passion for what I do, it still has to pay the bills and, for the time being at least, it is doing just that.

It has also been particularly gratifying to have our equipment used to great effect in a number of research projects worldwide. In addition to various projects in Europe, Third Wheel traps are used for chickadee research in Florida, grey jay research in Alaska and snow bunting research in the Canadian Arctic.

Nearer home, highlights have been a customer who caught a dunnock within 7 minutes of the postman delivering one of our traps and another who, on taking delivery of a new prototype, caught 55 linnets on the first morning.

What is your most memorable wildlife encounter?

Having been pursuing wildlife for nearly my whole life, I’ve been lucky enough to have many memorable wildlife encounters, which makes choosing a favourite rather tricky.

I’ve visited Svalbard (what we used to call Spitsbergen) in the High Arctic many times, as a leader of study tours. Here the memorable wildlife moments come thick and fast with polar bear, Arctic fox, beluga whale and countless breeding auks, wildfowl and waders against a stunning scenic backdrop.

On the bird ringing side of things, my best and most memorable ringing sessions have been catches of wigeon, teal and other wintering wildfowl as part of a cannon netting team. Wigeon are amazing little ducks and to ring one in Devon which probably breeds in central Russia is a real privilege.

Supplier Interview: Jack Skuse of Ambios Ltd

Jack Skuse of Ambios Ltd
Ambios are an educational charity based a mile or so down the river Dart from NHBS at a tenant farm on the historic Sharpham Estate. They provide conservation education, inspiration and training to a wide range of people at their farm, Lower Sharpham Barton. Over the last few years Ambios and NHBS have worked together on a range of products including the NHBS Kent Bat Box and reptile survey felts. The Lower Sharpham Barton site is managed by Jack Skuse.

Tell us a little about your organisation and how you got started.

Ambios Ltd are a nature conservation training organisation established in 2001. We aim to offer inspirational education, practical action, science and technology training and volunteering opportunities in the UK and EU. In partnership with Robert Owen Communities (ROC), a charity based in South West England supporting adults with learning disabilities, we run a farm on the stunning Sharpham estate outside Totnes, Devon. The aim of Lower Sharpham Farm is to use farming as a way of improving biodiversity, whilst offering people the chance to engage with wildlife and the outdoors – the farm runs as a care farm and base for our residential training activities. In partnership with UK and EU nature conservation organisations people can stay and learn at our farm, or in one of five EU countries including Norway, Hungary and Portugal. The people who engage with our farm (EU trainees, adults with learning disabilities) produce wildlife boxes for sale by NHBS.

What challenges do you face as an organisation working in the ecology/natural history sector?

There are a number of challenges we face, primarily relating to funding. We have historically accessed funding to run training for the next generation of wildlife professionals, as well as engaging and stimulating nature conservation-related provision for disabled people. This funding is proving harder to access, and we are aiming to diversify into a number of areas that generate revenue: training and volunteering placements where the learner pays, or is part subsidised by grant funding; wildlife experiences where learners can stay in our yurts for a number of days and gain employability skills and experience hands-on nature conservation projects, including bumble bee research, bird and badger surveys and practical habitat management; and producing, adding value to, and selling the products of the farm including organic beef, lamb, and eggs along with the wildlife boxes (typically made from wood sourced from the Sharpham Estate!).

What do you consider the most important achievement of your organisation in recent years?

To still be here 15 years later! We are proud of our legacy, and of the number and range of people who have benefited from our training, along with the wide and diverse network we have established here in UK and across EU. The farm tenancy is a leap of faith and grounds us in place and we are proud of the partnership with ROC and of the opportunities created here, and the potential available to us over the coming years.

What is your most memorable wildlife/natural history encounter?

I have seen wildlife around the world, and have strong memories of orca whales in Patagonia, and cobra snakes in Thailand (a close encounter whilst riding a bike). I was lucky enough to work with the Barn Owl Trust here in Devon, radio tracking barn owls whilst they fledged the nest for the first time. This close observation and appreciation of an enigmatic creature that is found here in UK was profound.

Supplier interview: Volker Runkel of ecoObs

Volker Runkel of ecoObs

ecoObs are a small German company at the forefront of full spectrum bat call recording and identification. They produce the Batcorder 3, a highly optimised bat detector (each new microphone arrives with its own calibration factor to ensure that comparisons between units are valid) designed to consistently record bat calls of sufficiently high quality to make auto-identification possible. Calls can then be processed using ecoObs software bcAdmin 3.0, bcAnalyse 2.0 and batIdent. These enable the rapid and accurate identification of common bat species, speeding up the identification process by up to 70% and allowing users to focus more time on rare or interesting bat species. We asked ecoObs co-founder and managing director Volker Runkel to introduce the company.

Tell us a little about your company and how you got started

For my PhD thesis I developed a quite basic and rather well working solution for passive monitoring of bats. Already then I saw that automation in data collection as well as analysis was one of the keys to focus on, instead of all raw analysis work. We quickly realized there is a huge demand for such a solution. We then were lucky and found an engineer who partnered up with us and redesigned the hardware so it was power efficient, small and easy to use. The batcorder system was born.

ecoObs Batcorder 3
ecoObs Batcorder 3

What challenges do you face as a company in the ecology/natural history sector?

The sector is rather small and as a hardware producer we for example often have problems acquiring small quantities of parts. In electro-engineering small companies still require some hundred thousand parts while we ask for a mere thousand. Also the demand for devices is highly seasonal – 90% of orders arrive within a few weeks in spring when the bat season starts. On the other end, we have a very vivid and heterogeneous bat worker scene.

What do you consider the most important achievement of your company in recent years?

I think getting the batcorder and the analysis software out in the wild and thus pushing the whole field of passive monitoring and automated bat call identification to where it is now. When we started in 2004 no one believed it would be ever working, and now a rising number of devices and software exists.

What is your most memorable wildlife/natural history encounter?

Spotting and touching an Echidna in the wild!

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