Over the last century, land use in the UK has changed drastically. Small mixed-crop farms, traditionally separated by lanes, hedgerows and wild meadows have been replaced with larger, more specialised facilities. At the same time, the density of grazing animals such as sheep and cattle has also risen substantially. This combination of land-use change and agricultural intensification has contributed significantly to habitat degradation and biodiversity loss, and has led to huge, often dire, changes for the wildlife that call these places home.
Understanding these processes is of huge importance to conservationists, and a considerable amount of research has been conducted into the broad scale effects of land use changes on biodiversity. It is less well understood, however, why seemingly similar species can be affected to a different extent by local changes in their habitat.
A recent study, conducted by Dr Andrew Higginson at the University of Exeter, suggests that competition for nesting space may be a key factor in the differences observed. His study used a mathematical model to predict the likely outcome when populations of birds and bees are faced with a reduction in suitable nesting sites. Results indicated that larger, earlier-nesting species tend to fare better in these conditions, but at the expense of smaller, later-nesting species who, in the real world, would either fail to find a nesting site or be forced into using a poor quality or risky location.
Dr Higginson’s results illustrate that, whilst two or more similar species can co-exist together very happily when there are sufficient nesting spaces available, as soon as these become limited, competition and conflict become inevitable. In severe situations, species that have historically thrived in the same environment may suddenly find themselves battling for survival.
A key message from the study was that conservation efforts should ensure that priority is given to the creation and maintenance of suitable nesting sites. Conservation practices often focus on provision of food for wildlife, such as planting wildflowers for bees and providing food for our garden birds. Preserving and creating safe and accessible places for these animals to nest, however, is just as critical if we are to ensure their continued survival.
Deciding which nest box camera to choose can be confusing and several questions should be considered before you make your choice: Do you need a wired version or would a wireless option be best for you? Do you want a camera that you can fit into an existing box, or would you prefer to buy everything already assembled? Will you be able to view your footage on your PC or laptop? Do you want to stream your footage to a website? In this article we will address all of these FAQs and offer some simple advice to make sure that you get the best out of your camera.
Do you want a wired or wireless system?
Wired systems have a cable running from the nest box back to your house or classroom. This cable carries both the power to the camera and the signal from the camera to your TV. A wired setup offers excellent image quality but may not be ideal if you have children or pets in your garden or if a cable running to your bird box will interfere with the gardening. You will also need to feed the cable into your house, either by drilling a hole in the wall or by feeding it through an open window.
Wireless systems do not require a cable between the bird box and the television but instead transmit images to a small receiver situated inside the house. For some cameras, such as the Wireless Nest Box Camera Kit, a power supply will still be required for the camera (i.e. from a shed or outbuilding). Other cameras, such as the battery powered Wireless Nest Box Camera Kit have solved this problem by adding a battery box, allowing the camera to run off D-cell batteries. An advanced version of this camera system is also available. This includes a solar panel which will power your camera while the sun is shining, only switching to battery power at night or on dull days.
Another thing to consider with a wireless system is that the signal can be compromised by other wireless devices in the area or by trees and other structures between the nest box and the house. In some situations this can severely affect your image quality.
Do you want a complete kit or just the camera?
If you are new to this particular aspect of watching and listening to birds, a complete kit, such as the Nest Box Camera Starter Kit or the Wired Camera Bird Box, provide an excellent and economical choice. These kits include a bird box which has a camera ready mounted in the roof. An attached cable plugs into your television and supplies the camera with power. Alternatively, if you want a wireless option, the Wireless Camera Nest Box is a great choice and doesn’t require any complicated assembly processes.
If you decide to go for one of these options then you will need to attach the camera to the ceiling or inside wall of your box yourself using small screws. A small file can be used to file down a part of the side wall to make a space for the cable to pass through. Alternatively you might consider buying a Camera Ready Nest Box which has a clip inside for attaching a camera, as well as a perspex window in the side which helps to improve the quality of daytime images.
What about watching on your computer?
All of the cameras and kits that we sell come with either a cable or wireless receiver that will connect directly to your television. If you want to view or save your footage onto your computer then an additional USB capture device is required. These allow you to connect your camera/receiver to the USB port of your computer and come with viewing software which allows you to watch and record your footage. Available for both Windows and Mac operating systems.
Can I stream my footage to a website?
There are lots of online services which allow you to stream a live feed from your camera online. Many are free if you are happy having adverts on your stream, or you can purchase a monthly or yearly ad-free plan. Our current favourite is Ustream (www.ustream.tv). Take a look at their website for lots of great resources to help get you started.
With spring rapidly approaching, now is the ideal time to start thinking about nest boxes for your local birds. With this in mind we have put together some answers to the most frequently asked questions about nest boxes – covering where and when to put up your boxes, cleaning and maintenance as well as dealing with predators.
There really is no ‘best’ time to put up nest boxes. By putting up boxes in the autumn you can provide much needed winter refuges for roosting birds and increase the chance of them staying and nesting there when spring comes around. However, any box erected before the end of February stands a good chance of being occupied. Even after February there is still a chance that they will be used; tits have been known to move in during April and house martins as late as July. Therefore, put your nest box up as soon as it is available rather than leaving it in the shed!
Where should I hang my nest box?
When it comes to nest boxes, the ‘where’ is much more important than the ‘when’. Nest boxes must provide a safe, comfortable environment and protect the inhabitants from predators and the worst of the weather. This may be difficult to achieve; a safe location out of reach of predators may also be exposed to the weather, so have a good think before you start bashing nails in.
Nest boxes can be fixed to walls, trees or buildings and different styles of boxes are available which are suitable for each. Fixing to artificial surfaces means the growth of the tree does not have to be considered which is useful for Schwegler nest boxes which last for at least 20-25 years: a significant amount of time in the life of a small tree. If you’re planning any building work, remember that some bird and bat boxes can also be built directly into walls and roofs.
Locating boxes out of the reach of predators can be a challenge (weasels can climb almost anything), but there are things you can do to make it harder for them. Boxes in gardens should be located where cats cannot get to them and prickly or thorny bushes can also help to deter unwanted visitors. Some nest boxes also have anti-predator designs (e.g. Schwegler’s Tree Creeper nest box). It is best to avoid nest boxes that have a combined bird feeder and boxes should not be sited too close to the bird feeders in your garden. Visitors to the feeder may disturb the nesting birds and the feeder could attract unwanted attention from predators.
For many species the height of the box is not crucial. However, by placing it at least several metres off the ground you can help prevent predators and human interference. The direction of the entrance hole is also not too important but it is beneficial for there to be a clear flight path to the box. Crucially, the box should be sheltered from the prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight, so in most UK gardens aim for an aspect of northerly, easterly or south-easterly. If possible, position the box with a slight downward angle to provide further protection from the rain. Wherever you position the box, try to ensure that you can still get access to it for maintenance. And finally, if possible, try to put it somewhere where you can see it so as to maximise your enjoyment of watching wild birds in your garden.
Is there anything else I can do to deter predators?
As already mentioned, location is the most important factor when trying to deter predators. Whilst some mammals can climb walls, a blank wall is fairly inaccessible so can be a good choice. Ensure that the box cannot be reached by a single jump from a nearby branch or the ground.
Box design can also help deter predators. An entrance hole reinforced with a metal plate will prevent grey squirrels and some avian predators from enlarging the hole and gaining access to the nest. Schwegler’s wood-concrete boxes are too hard for any predator to break through. However, you can also reinforce a nest box yourself with metal protection plates or provide additional protection with prickly twigs. Deep boxes may prevent predators reaching in and grabbing nest occupants, although some tits have been known to fill up deep boxes with copious quantities of nesting material. If using open-fronted nest boxes, a balloon of chicken wire over the entrance can work well. If you live in an urban area, cats are likely to be the most common predator. Gardeners have long since used various methods to exclude these unwanted visitors, such as pellets, electronic scarers and even lion dung (available from your nearest obliging zoo), all with varying degrees of success.
How do I manage the nest box?
A well-designed nest box will only need one annual clean in the autumn. It is important not to clean out nest boxes before August as they may still be occupied. Wait until autumn and then remove the contents, scattering them on the ground some way from the box to help prevent parasites re-infesting the nest box. Use a small brush or scraper to remove debris from the corners. Boiling water can be used to kill any parasites remaining in the box, but remember to leave the lid off for a while for it to try out. Do not wait until the winter to clean out nest boxes as birds may already be roosting in them.
How many nest boxes do I need?
The exact amount of boxes required will depend on the species and the surrounding habitat. As a very general rule of thumb, start with ten assorted small boxes per hectare (ensure uniform spacing between boxes). Keep adding several more boxes each season until some remain unused and hopefully you’ll hit on the correct density of boxes. However, even if you only have space for one box it is still worthwhile, providing it is suitably located. Many UK bird species need all the additional nesting habitat they can get.
If you are interested in installing a nest box camera into one of your bird boxes, take a look at our “How to choose a nest box camera” article, for more information on choosing the model that’s right for you.
Further information about individual nest boxes, including advice on positioning, can be found alongside each nest box in our range. If you have any other questions then please get in touch with customer services.
Deciding which nest box camera to choose involves a complicated tiptoe through competing technologies and equipment. Before you start watching birds you have to decide what sort of system is best for you and, crucially, how much money to spend.
The first question you need to consider is whether to choose a wired or wireless system.
Wired systems have a cable running from the nest box back to your house or classroom, which carries both power and the television signal. This results in excellent image quality but may not be ideal if you have children or pets in your garden, or if a cable running to your bird box will interfere with the gardening. You will also need to feed the cable into your house, either by drilling a hole in the wall or by feeding it through an open window.
Wireless systems do not require a cable to run between the bird box and the television but instead transmit images to a small receiver situated inside the house. However, a power supply will still be required for the camera (i.e. from a shed or outbuilding) and the signal can be compromised by other wireless devices in the area or by trees and other structures between the nest box and the house.
Next you will need to consider whether you require a complete kit or just the camera.
If you are new to this particular aspect of watching and listening to birds, a complete kit, such as the Nest Box Camera Starter Kit is a good and economical choice. This starter kit includes a bird box with a camera mounted in the roof, which provides colour footage during the day and black and white at night. A 30 metre cable plugs into your television and supplies the camera with power. Another option is the Gardenature Nest Box Camera System, which includes a bespoke red cedar nest box made to RSPB and BTO guidelines. A small sliding drawer at the top of the box houses the Sony CCD camera, which adjusts automatically depending on light levels. A 30 metre cable connects the camera to your television.
For the handyman or woman who wants to put a system together themselves, either in a bespoke or existing nest box, the Nest Box Camera with Night Vision is a good choice. The tiny camera will focus from a few centimetres to roughly 30 metres, with high definition for excellent daytime and night time images. The camera comes with a 30 metre cable and extension cables are available to purchase separately. The Wireless Nest Box Camera Kit is a great option if you want to fit a wireless camera to your own bird box.
What about watching on your computer?
All of the cameras and kits that we sell come with either a cable or wireless receiver that will connect directly to your television. If you want to view or save your footage onto your computer then an additional USB capture device is required. These are available both for Windows and Mac operating systems and come with all the software you require to get started.
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.
Simon Thompson, Hedgehog Officer at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, gave us some tips on how to help your local hedgehog population:
“There are measures which we can all undertake to provide space for our hedgehogs, the simplest and most important of these is to provide access into and between our gardens. Walls and fences create an impenetrable barrier to hedgehogs and a small hole, about the size of a CD case will easily allow hedgehogs to pass between gardens. Ask your neighbours to do the same and all of a sudden there is dramatically larger landscape through which hedgehogs can find food, nesting sites and potential mates. Once your garden is linked to the wider landscape then having a hedgehog box instantly provides a structure within which hedgehogs can construct themselves a safe and secure nest to sleep during the day or perhaps even hibernate through the winter.”
Hedgehog homes are a safe retreat for the hedgehogs in your garden and provide a warm and dry shelter along with valuable protection from predators. Site your home in a quiet position, out of the prevailing wind, ideally in an area with some cover.
Hedgehog Nest Box
The Hedgehog Nest Box has been designed and extensively tested by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and provides a safe and snug environment for these wonderful creatures. The box has a predator-proof tunnel and removable roof and is approved by Dr. Pat Morris of London University.
Igloo Hedgehog Home
This attractive wicker Igloo Hedgehog Home is designed to blend into your garden. The built-in entrance tunnel provides protection from predators and the Igloo is spacious enough for a family group.
Hogitat Hedgehog House
The Hogitat Hedgehog House has an attractive appearance and will fit perfectly into any garden environment. Made of principally natural materials, it has a waterproofed roof and predator defence tunnel. Provides a safe retreat for hedgehogs and other small mammals.
We have just released a new and improved model of the dormouse nest tube. What’s different? Well, we have tried to tackle two of the most frequently encountered problems with setting up dormouse nest tubes. (1) It can be tricky to attach them securely to a branch and (2) once ‘securely attached’ they are prone to slipping. To reduce these issues we have added retaining loops to the base of the nest tube to stop slippage and to enable faster placement.
We also supply 71cm cable ties for fast set-up. If you prefer using garden wire to secure your nest tubes then this method will also be easier using the new loops.
Dormouse survey – best practice
For the non- (or new) professionals out there a few quick pointers on best practice for a survey using dormouse nest tubes.
Surveys should not be limited to habitat perceived as ‘optimal’ but should be undertaken in any areas of affected woody habitat (including adjacent areas if the impact of development is likely to extend beyond the site footprint).
Normally at least 50 nest tubes should be placed at roughly 15-20m intervals and these should be left in place (and checked monthly) for the majority of the active season.
In order to have any chance of obtaining a license to carry out work affecting dormouse habitat you must first conduct a survey with a probability of 20 or above of finding dormice if they are present (although please remember that an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence). To calculate the probability score for your survey you add together the scores (Table 1) for the months during which the survey was conducted (for surveys conducted using 50 dormouse nest tubes and following the advice given in points 1 and 2 above).
Taken at face value this means that all dormouse surveys should begin by June at the latest; however, it is possible to start a survey later than this under certain conditions. For example, you can increase survey effort by increasing the number of dormouse nest tubes deployed (if you use 100 tubes you can double the scores in Table 1). Note though that surveys conducted using a large number of tubes for a short period are not good practice and nor are surveys where tubes are crowded together at intervals of less than 15-20m (although 10m intervals may be acceptable in very small sites).
For further details we recommend you consult the latest guidance from Natural England in England or your national licensing authority (e.g. Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, etc.).
3. Habibat is a unique partnership with the Bat Conservation Trust
The Bat Conservation Trust will be collating information on the use and installation and of Habibat boxes. In addition, the Trust has contributed to the design of the box, and a number of Habibat variants will be tried and tested to continue the development of the product.
4. Habibat is a versatile bat box system
We can supply quotes for joining multiple Habibat boxes or other bespoke requirements.
5. Habibat is made to standard brick dimensions
Habibat is simple to incorporate into walls as it has the same footprint as a standard UK brick (215mm wide x 103mm deep) and can be matched in height with six courses of bricks.
As the days grow shorter and cooler, many animals are beginning to look for a safe place to spend the winter.
The best way to cater for most hibernating animals is simply not to tidy your garden too much – a pile of leaves at the back of a flower bed provides a great place for many insects as well as some larger animals (including hedgehogs) to bed down for the winter. However, if you would like to go a step further and provide the animals in your garden with tailor-made winter homes then NHBS can help. For insects, including many important pollinators, predators of garden pests, and species that are important food items for bats, frogs, and many small mammals, NHBS offers a range of nesting and overwintering boxes.
Bat populations have fallen dramatically in recent decades and one reason for this is the loss of suitable hibernation sites (or hibernacula). NHBS offers a wide range of tailor-made bat hibernation boxes including wooden boxes such as the Double Chamber Bat Box – and the new Triple Chamber Bat Box which we introduced last week here – as well as more durable woodcrete colony hibernation boxes such as the Schwegler 1FW.
Finally, spare a thought for those birds that do not migrate south to warmer areas. Although most of us only consider bird boxes as being useful during the summer in fact they are frequently used by roosting birds during the long cold winter nights. Putting bird boxes up in the autumn gives birds plenty of time to find them and increases the chances that your box will be used next spring.
As usual, the NHBS ornithology list has expanded over the last year to incorporate many fantastic new books for birdwatchers, conservation workers, and ecologists. We hope you enjoy browsing these, alongside featured classics and bestsellers. The Editor’s Choice selections pick out the very best recent and forthcoming titles in each main subject area.
Our wildlife equipment range is always growing – now over 2000 items – and you will find all the best bird-related gear on the Nest Boxes and Wildlife Kit pages of the catalogue.