Birds, Beasts and Bedlam: Turning My Farm into an Ark for Lost Species is an eclectic mix of stories from Derek Gow’s past and from the varied people he’s met and worked with. Opening with an account of his expedition to see bison in Poland, Gow laments the loss of ‘great beasts’ from Britain. We’ve lost much of our megafauna, including steppe bison; aurochs; brown, polar and cave bears; Eurasian and Irish elk; lynx; and wolves. Some of these losses, along with the current rate of habitat destruction, have drastically changed how our ecosystems function.
Derek Gow is a reintroduction expert, farmer and author, best known for his work with beavers, white storks, water voles and wildcats. His first natural history book, Bringing Back the Beaver, was a highly acclaimed success, detailing his firsthand account of the reestablishment of beavers in waterways across England and Scotland. Following Gow’s rewilding and farming adventures, from his first attempt at keeping livestock as a child to his time working at zoos and captive breeding programmes, Gow’s new memoir describes his battles with creating a viable farm and how he is repairing the damage this caused to the land and wildlife.
In 2006, Gow bought a farm next to his property in South Devon. In chapter three ‘Not a Lark or a Lizard Lived There’, Gow details the quiet decline of wildlife on his farm and his slow realisation of the damage he caused by following conventional farming practices. He tells of his final straw moment, when a small mammal trapping course run on his land only turned up two woodmice. The lack of voles indicated a much wider absence of wildlife within the farm, such as the loss of barn owls and kestrels.
After realising the damage that was occurring, Gow started to deconstruct his farm, selling off his livestock and began to try to rejuvenate the land. Through excavations, fencing and accidental escapees, a complex series of watercourses and wetlands were created. Birds, otters, amphibians and insects started to return. But this wasn’t enough. Gow introduced Heck cattle, Iron Age pigs (a hybrid of wild boar and Tamworths), mouflon sheep, Exmoor ponies and even water buffalo to replicate the ecosystem roles of Britain’s lost megafauna. These helped shape not only the species composition and trophic structure of the ecosystem, but also the physical structure of the habitats, conserving and promoting biodiversity. Gow describes how the cattle gouged banks and dug pits in pastures, how pigs created wallows that supported tadpoles and dragonfly larvae, and how the presence of grazing ponies has resulted in an irregular, wilder edge where pastures and woods meet.
Throughout the later chapters, Gow shares the conservation history and reintroduction attempts of two ailing UK species, the water vole (Arvicola amphibius)and the pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae). Water vole populations have significantly declined in recent decades due to predation by the invasive American mink (Neovison vision), habitat degradation, historical persecution and pollution. The reduction in waterways and habitat corridors, the removal of bankside vegetation and the urbanisation of floodplains are among the many ways water vole habitats are being destroyed. Gow recounts the process of creating a successful captive breeding program for water voles, sharing the many mistakes that were made before they found the right cage design. Thousands of water voles have been bred for release projects, helping to boost declining populations.
Human encroachment into watercourses is also thought to have been one of the causes of the extinction of pool frogs in the UK. Reintroductions from populations in Sweden have been underway since 2005. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gow links both the reintroduction of this species and the efforts for water voles to the reintroduction of beavers. As anyone who has read Bringing Back the Beaverwill know, beavers are ecosystem engineers and shape the habitats they live in. Their actions provide a far more sustainable and natural practice for creating more suitable habitats to facilitate rewilding and the reintroduction of other species.
Birds, Beasts and Bedlum is a fun, engaging memoir, filled with excentric tales and artful insights into the world of farming, conservation and rewilding. Ending on a lament at the often slow, overcomplicated process of reintroductions and rewilding, this book highlights the need for a better-developed system and large-scale reshaping of the landscape, with a final call for the return of the wolf.
A quadrat is a square frame, usually constructed from wire or plastic-coated wire, although they can be made from any sturdy material. Most commonly they measure 50cm x 50cm (i.e. 0.25m2), and may have further internal divisions to create either 25 squares each measuring 10cm x 10cm or 100 squares measuring 5cm x 5cm. Some frames are also collapsible which allows you to connect several pieces together to create larger sample areas.
What are quadrats used for?
Quadrats are used to survey plants or slow-moving/sedentary animals. They can be used either on land or underwater to gain an estimate of:
total number of an individual (or several) species.
species richness/diversity – the number of different species present in an area.
plant frequency/frequency index – the uniformity of a plant’s distribution within a surveyed area (not a measure of abundance).
percentage cover – useful in situations where it is difficult to identify and count individual plants, such as grasses or mosses.
By deploying several quadrats it is possible to compare any of these factors either spatially (for example in locations with different light or pH levels) or over time, such as at different points throughout the year.
How to use a quadrat
Most surveys require that quadrats are placed randomly within the survey site. One way to ensure that placements are truly random is to divide your survey area into quadrat-sized spaces and then use a random number generator to choose x and y coordinates. The quadrat can then be placed in the appropriate position. The number of samples you require will depend largely on the size of your survey site and the amount of time/manpower you have available. A minimum of ten samples should ideally be used.
In some situations, more specific placement of the quadrats is required. For example, when studying the changes in species presence/abundance on a shoreline, you may wish to take samples at regular intervals along a transect up the beach.
Creating a species list
One of the simplest ways of using a quadrat is to create a species list. To do this, the quadrat is placed randomly several times within the target area and the plants present within them are recorded. This will not provide any information on abundance or distribution, but will be a useful guide as to the species that are present at the time of sampling.
Estimating the total number of a species
For plants or animals that are easy to count, it is possible to estimate their total numbers for your survey area. To do this, simply count the number present in a series of quadrat samples then divide the total by the number of samples to get an average count per quadrat. If you know the dimensions of your entire survey site you can then multiply this up to get an estimate of the total number of a species present.
Estimating plant frequency/frequency index
To calculate plant frequency or frequency index, you simply need to note down whether the target species is present or absent within each quadrat sampled. The number of quadrats in which the species was present should be divided by the total number of samples taken and then multiplied by 100 to get the frequency as a percentage. For example, in a survey where 10 samples were taken, dandelions were found in 6 of these. This would give a frequency index of (6/10) x 100 = 60%.
Estimating percentage cover
For species in which it is difficult to count individual plants (e.g. grasses and mosses) it is easier to estimate percentage cover. For this purpose a quadrat with internal divisions is recommended – one with 100 5cm x 5cm squares is particularly useful. Results from several quadrats can then be averaged and scaled up to get an estimate for the entire survey area.
Important things to remember
• The number of samples you take (i.e. the number of times you deploy your quadrat during your survey) will affect the reliability of your results. Sample sizes which are too small are much more likely to be affected by anomalous counts (e.g. localised clusters of individual species). On the other hand, planning for too many samples can create an impractical workload.
• Bear in mind that there will always be observer bias. By their nature, flowering plants are easy to overestimate and low-growing species are more likely to be missed.
• Take care to make sure that your quadrats are randomly placed if your survey design requires this. It is easy to subconsciously place them where there are large numbers of flowers or easy to count species. Using a coordinate-based system will solve this problem.
Quadrats available from NHBS
At NHBS we sell a selection of high-quality quadrats, designed to be strong, long-lasting and durable.
Made from heavy gauge steel wire with zinc plating, the Q1 Quadrat measures 0.5m x 0.5m and has no divisions.
The Q2 Quadrat is made from heavy gauge steel wire with a plastic protective coating. The 0.5m x 0.5m frame is subdivided into 25 squares for sampling dense vegetation or species-poor habitats.
The Q3 Quadrat is made from heavy gauge steel wire with plastic coating. The 0.5m x 0.5m frame is subdivided into 100 squares for calculating percentage cover or making presence/absence recordings.
The Q4 Quadrat is a strong collapsible quadrat made from four pieces of heavy gauge steel wire with zinc plating. A single Q4 frame will make a 0.5m x 0.5m open frame without divisions, suitable for general vegetation surveys. Additional units can be used together to make a variety of quadrats, e.g.. 1m x 1m or 1m x 0.5m. Being collapsible means it is also ideal for travel.
(a) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
(b) USFWS Pacific Southwest Region via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
With approximately 7,000 species, the Diptera (true flies) are one of the biggest insect orders in Britain and Ireland, second only to Hymenoptera (the bees, wasps and ants). Of these species, over 280 belong to the family Syrphidae, the hoverflies. Known as ‘flower flies’ in other parts of the world, hoverflies are frequent visitors to flowering plants and are a familiar sight in our gardens and woodlands, and a wide range of other habitats. You would be forgiven for mistaking a hoverfly for a bee or wasp, as some species are amazing mimics in terms of both their appearance and behaviour, although some are more convincing than others.
Hoverflies are important, and often overlooked, pollinators, and their larval stages are incredibly diverse. Some larvae are predatory, feeding on aphids or eating grubs within the nests of ants, social bees or wasps, while others feed on the roots, stems or leaves of plants, or on dead and decaying organic matter, such as rotting wood or material collected in rot holes in trees.
Although many hoverflies are brightly coloured or distinctively patterned, there are plenty of inconspicuous species that resemble flies in other families. The first step is therefore to determine that a fly is in fact a hoverfly. In general hoverflies lack the strong bristles we see in other flies, such as the house fly, but the key characteristic is their wing venation. Unlike other flies, hoverflies have a ‘false vein’ on their wing, and although this is a difficult feature to get an eye for initially, it can be obvious in good photos and becomes easier to spot with practice. Another clue is in the name; hoverflies are remarkable fliers and many species are able to hold their position in flight for an incredible length of time.
Hoverfly identification can be difficult, and in some cases it is necessary to inspect a specimen under a microscope for a positive ID. There are many garden visitors that are more straightforward, however, and with a good field guide, a hand lens and a camera to take clear photos with, you can easily get started in learning more about this attractive group of insects. There are fantastic resources online too, such as the UK Hoverflies group on Facebook, which provides help with identification and allows members to share their observations.
This is the first of two hoverfly identification guides, and in both of these blogs we will be covering the more common species that you are likely to encounter in your garden or local patch.
Distribution: Widespread throughout Britain and Ireland. E. tenax is thought to be the most widespread hoverfly species in the world. Habitat: A wide range of habitats including gardens, woodlands and meadows. What to look for: A convincing honey-bee mimic that can be easily told from other species of Eristalis by three obvious characteristics: a thickened, curved hind tibia; a broad, dark facial stripe; and vertical stripes of dark hairs on the eyes.
Months active: Present throughout the year, but most frequently recorded between February and April, and June and November.
Did you know: Females hibernate over the winter, and males are increasingly being recorded hibernating during warmer winters in southern England. The aquatic larvae, or ‘rat-tailed maggots’, live in wet, decaying vegetation
The Eristalis genus includes a number of common species that are likely to be encountered in gardens, such as E. pertinax and E. arbustorum. The May issue of British Wildlife magazine includes an article by Roger Morris and Stuart Ball that provides an introduction to the Eristalis genus, and includes an identification key to the ten Eristalis species that occur in the UK.
Distribution: Widespread throughout Britain and Ireland. Habitat: A variety of habitats, but found in woodlands especially.
What to look for: Similar to some Eristalis species, Myathropea florea is a distinctive black-and-yellow species with a bat-like pattern on its thorax, although this can vary and cause confusion in less clearly marked individuals. Months active: April to October. Did you know: Like other species in the Eristalini tribe, M. florea larvae are known as ‘rat-tailed maggots’ and are found in wet hollows containing decaying vegetation, although they have been reported making use of any containers holding water and dead vegetation, such as buckets or water butts.
Distribution: Widespread throughout Britain and Ireland. Habitat: A number of habitats including woodlands, gardens and hedgerows.
What to look for: Females can be easily identified by their completely yellow hind femora, although males are harder to distinguish from two other common Syrphus species, S. torvus and S. vitripennis. Male S. ribesii can be separated from S. torvus by their bare eyes, but a microscope is needed to reliably separate males of S. ribesii and S. vitripennis. Months active: From March to November, with peaks in May–June and July–September. Did you know: Male S. ribesii will emit a noticeable humming noise from tree canopies, caused by vibrating their wings at a high frequency when resting.
Distribution: Widespread in Britain and Ireland, but less abundant in parts of Scotland. Habitat: Often recorded in gardens and urban areas. What to look for: A hairy bumblebee mimic that has swollen hind femora with triangular projections – a characteristic unique among bumblebee mimics. M. equestris can occur in a range of colour forms to mimic different bumblebee species. Months active: Between April and September, with a peak in late May and early June. Did you know: The larvae develop in the bulbs of many different bulb-forming plants, but they are especially associated with daffodils and can be a pest in some cases. They are thought to have been introduced to Britain in the 19th century in daffodil bulbs.
Distribution: Widespread throughout Britain and Ireland. Habitat: Woodland edges and hedgerows, and often seen in gardens. What to look for: Females are easier to recognise due to their yellow legs and silver spots on their black abdomen. Males tend to have bronze-coloured spots, a front tibia that is significantly broader at the end, and front femora that have distinctive clumps of long hairs. It is possible to confuse males with similar species such as P. aurolateralis, P. scutatus, and P. splendidus, and so close examination of the legs is required. Months active: Between March and November, with peaks between May and June, and July and August. Did you know: A common garden visitor, particularly in spring, P. albimanus is often found in low vegetation such as nettles or brambles.
Distribution: Widespread in Britain, although less abundant in northern Scotland. Habitat: Recorded in almost any habitat, from gardens to mountain tops. What to look for: Males and females are quite different in appearance, but both have broad yellow markings that reach the edges of the abdomen. The males also have an obvious genital capsule. Months active: March to November, with a peak between July and August. Did you know: E. corollae is found in a wide variety of habitats. An influx of migrants or a mass emergence of individuals results in a peak in numbers in midsummer.
Distribution: Widespread throughout Britain and Ireland. Habitat: Grasslands. What to look for: It is easy to confuse this species with M. scalare, and so close examination is required. In females, the top of the head is a shining black with very narrow dust spots by the eyes, while the abdomen has distinctive yellow markings. Males have a relatively short abdomen and the second and third segments are as wide as they are long. Months active: April to October, with peaks in May–June and July–August. Did you know: This is one of the most common hoverfly species in the UK and is often recorded from grasslands, although it can also be found in high numbers in the uplands such as on moorland or mountainsides.
Distribution: Widespread in Britain and Ireland, but rare in parts of northern Scotland. Habitat: Woodlands, road verges and hedgerows. What to look for: A small, dark hoverfly (even the wings are dark) with bright red eyes. Confusion can occur with other Chrysogaster species, or even small house flies. Months active: May to October, with a peak in July and August. Did you know: A common woodland species, particularly in damp and shady locations. C. solstitialis is often seen in concentrated numbers on umbellifers such as Hogweed and Angelica.
Distribution: Widespread throughout Britain and Ireland. Habitat: Woodlands and field edges, but found in a variety of habitats. What to look for: The long snout and orange abdomen make this an unmistakable species. The only potential for confusion is with the UK’s other Rhingia species, R. rostrata, but the dark edges of the abdomen and overall darker colouration of R. campestris are distinctive. Months active: April to October, with peaks between May and June, and August to September. Did you know: The long snout allows R. campestris to feed on plants with deep tubes, such as bluebells, which other hoverflies cannot use. The larvae breed in cow dung, although other breeding habitats are also thought to be used as adults can occur in high numbers where there are few or no cattle.
Distribution: Widespread in Britain and Ireland, although absent from central England and scarce in south-east England. Habitat: Acidic, boggy habitats, such as wetlands and heathlands. What to look for: A large wasp mimic with distinctive black-and-yellow banding – it is very unlikely that this species would be confused with any other hoverfly. Months active: May to November, with a peak in July. Did you know: This is a very mobile species, which is often found far from breeding sites. It visits a range of plants, but seems to have a preference for red or purple flowers, such as Devil’s-bit Scabious.
Distribution: Widespread in Ireland, Wales and southern England, but rarely occurs in high numbers. Habitat: Woodland. What to look for: Easily recognisable, F. cuprea has a metallic, brassy abdomen with grey longitudinal stripes on the thorax. The thorax also has strong bristles on its side, which is quite uncommon for a hoverfly. Months active: March to November, with a peak in June. Did you know: F. cuprea is rarely seen visiting flowers, and is more likely to be seen basking on tree trunks, wooden posts or even telegraph poles.
Shieldbugs are insects in the superfamily Pentatomoidea. They are characterised by their well-developed scutellum, the hardened extension of the thorax over the abdomen. Many shieldbug species are triangular, with a broad pronotum and pointed end to the abdomen. They also produce a foul-smelling liquid from their prothoracic glands, which inspired the American name “stink bug”, although this name is specific to the family Pentatomidae.
Some shieldbugs are considered pest species due to the damage they can cause to crops. The recent arrival of the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys)to the UK is considered a serious threat to fruit and vegetable crops. They damage the salability of produce and can even contaminate the taste of juice or wine, causing waste and a loss in income.
Identifying shieldbugs is usually based on structural characteristics, body length (from the head to the end of the abdomen, ignoring the antennae and legs), and species range. Colouration and pattern can be useful but there is often variation between individuals of the same species. Using a hand lens, sweep net or beating tray can help when surveying for shieldbugs. A field guide that includes juvenile stages would also be useful as nymphs can often have different colour patterns to adults.
Hawthorn Shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale)
Distribution: Widespread across the UK. What to look for:The most common shield bug in the UK, the hawthorn shieldbug is also UK’s largest. Its scutellum and pronotum are green, framed with red sides. The ‘shoulders’ of its pronotum are pointed with red and black tips, and its corium, the thickened basal portion of the forewing, is red. Its wing membrane can vary in colour but is usually red. Similar species: The birch shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus) but this species does not have a green scutellum. The juniper shieldbug (Cyphostethus tristriatus) is also similar but this species does not have a red wing membrane.
Common Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina)
Distribution: Widespread in England, Wales, and parts of Northern Ireland. What to look for: This is a larger species, with a dark wing membrane and a bright green body during summer. The adults become a bronze-brown colour in the autumn before hibernating throughout winter. Similar species: The southern green shieldbug (Nezara viridula), a non-native species. However, this species has paler wings than the common green shieldbug.
Parent Bug (Elasmucha grisea)
Distribution: Occurs across the UK but most commonly in south-east and central England. What to look for: This is a medium-sized species with red and beige colouration. Most individuals have a black patch on the scutellum. This species also has a black and white connexivum, the flattened lateral border of the abdomen.
Pied Shieldbug (Tritomegas bicolor)
Distribution: Widespread across the south-east and central England. What to look for: This species does not have the characteristic triangular shape and could be confused for a ladybird. It has a black and white piebald pattern, with a grey or translucent wing membrane. Its pronotum is black with a white spot on each ‘shoulder’. Similar species: Rambur’s pied shieldbug (Tritomegas sexmaculatus), although this species has a black wing membrane.
Juniper Shieldbug (Cyphostethus tristriatus)
Distribution: Common in southern and central England, with an expanding range. What to look for: This is a bright green species, with a green pronotum, head and scutellum. They have pinkish-red markings on their corium. Their wing membrane is green with a black X-shaped mark. Similar species: The birch and hawthorn shield bugs are visually similar but neither species has the black X-shaped mark on their wing membrane.
Striped Shieldbug (Graphosoma italicum)
Distribution: First recorded in the UK in 2020, only found in two sites in London. What to look for: Also known as the Italian striped bug and the minstrel bug, their body is rounded with bold red and black longitudinal stripes. Their connexium is black with several black, square-shaped spots. Similar species: There are several similar species, such as Graphosoma lineatum, but none are found in the UK.
Ornate Shieldbug (Eurydema ornata)
Distribution: Coastal areas between Devon and Sussex, scattered in other parts of southern England. What to look for: They have a distinctive red and black pattern across their pronotum and abdomen. There are other colour morphs, however, and they can have a white and yellow background with the same black markings. They have a black head with a red, white or yellow ‘mouth’ shape and a black wing membrane. Similar species: The scarlet shieldbug (Eurydema dominulus). They can be distinguished by the pattern on their corium. The ornate shieldbug has a thin black line, two spots and a washed-out area, compared to the thicker line, one or no spots and no washed-out area on the scarlet shieldbug.
Blue Shieldbug (Zicrona caerulea)
Distribution: Widespread across Britain, particularly in the north, and absent from Ireland. What to look for: The blue shieldbug has a deep blue-green metallic sheen, with a dark wing membrane. They resemble leaf beetles, species in the Altica genus, whose larvae they predate upon. This is called aggressive mimicry, where a predator resembles its prey to avoid detection.
Bishop’s Mitre Shieldbug (Aelia acuminata)
Distribution: Widespread across southern Britain. What to look for: This is a straw-coloured species, with brown longitudinal stripes, a distinctive pointed head and a ridged pronotum. Similar species:Mecidea lindbergi is another elongated shield bug but it is a thinner species without brown stripes.
Bleached sea sponges have been found in New Zealand waters for the first time, with extreme ocean temperatures being blamed. Bleaching was found in more than a dozen sites near Breaksea Sound and Doubtful Sound in Fiordland, with as many as 95% of sponges bleached in some parts. These sponges play an important role in the ecosystem by creating habitats for fish and by releasing carbon, which other species feed off. The region had recorded temperatures up to 5°C higher than usual in April, which researchers think has a “very strong correlation” with the bleaching events.
Paleobiologists are using shark teeth to decipher evolutionary processes. By studying multiple tiger shark teeth from different developmental stages, from embryos to adults, a team of researchers are able to draw conclusions about extinct species based on preserved shark teeth. This contribution to our knowledge of dental characteristics during tiger shark development will help researchers understand the developmental and evolutionary processes of both present and extinct sharks.
Habitat loss is endangering migratory birds in Tanzania. The Kilombero wetland, an important habitat for numerous bird species, is under threat from human-caused degradation, such as recurring drought spells, unsustainable farming practices and overgrazing. Pantaleo Munishi, a Professor of Ecosystems and Conservation at the Sokoine University of Agriculture believes many bird species native to Kilombero will become extinct within a decade as they may be unable to cope.
A new study has found that the number of flying insects has declined by nearly 60% in less than 20 years. This decline threatens our entire ecosystem, and a wide variety of species may go extinct, including wildflowers, songbirds, bats and fish. Scientists are also warning that this loss could increase food bills, as insects play a vital role in pollination and nutrient recycling.
Pink pigeons have made a recovery in Mauritius but the species is still losing genetic diversity. In the 1980s, it was estimated that only around ten pink pigeons were left in the wild. They were threatened by introduced predators such as cats and rats, as well as the loss of almost all of their native forest. Through a captive breeding and release programme, which began with an initial population of 12 birds taken from the wild in the 1970s and 80s, there are around 400 individuals in the wild, downlisting the species from critically endangered to vulnerable. As the population has experienced such a bottleneck, however, there is a risk of “genomic erosion” and individuals becoming less genetically healthy as so many are closely related. This can reduce the chances of the pigeons hatching and fledging successfully, as well as reducing their lifespan. A new study has been published looking into this genomic erosion.
A record number of dams were removed from Europe’s rivers in 2021. Around 239 dams and weirs were removed across 17 countries last year. These river barriers block fish migration routes, leading to the loss of breeding grounds and reduced species abundance, impacting the ecosystem and species that rely on these fish, such as otters and eagles. More than 1 million barriers still exist on Europe’s rivers, with around 150,000 no longer serving any economic purpose.
A “ground-breaking” biodiversity audit of more than 10,000 species along a 105-mile stretch of coastline in north Norfolk has been created to help any decisions about their future. This stretch included a huge variety of habitats, including saltmarsh, sand dunes, freshwater grazing marshes and other wetlands. The huge database included more than a million biological records and was combined with other ecological datasets, along with knowledge from natural history experts and managers. The audit will hopefully be used to help inform decisions on how best to improve the diversity of the area.
New wetlands will be created along the West Midlands road network as part of the £6m Network for Nature programme launched by National Highways and the Wildlife Trusts. One wetland, to be created in the Lugg Valley close to the A49, is hoped to bridge a gap for wildlife between Bodenham Lake nature reserve and Wellington Gravel Pits. It is also expected to reduce pollution entering the River Lugg, creating drainage pools close to the A49. In total, 26 projects will develop and restore over 1,700 acres of woodlands, grasslands, peatlands and wetlands across England.
The Batlogger S2 is a compact passive recorder manufactured by Elekon. This all-in-one static bat detector and ultrasonic recorder is designed to be left unattended in the field over several nights to survey and monitor bats. The S2 is operated solely via Bluetooth and the BATLOGGER Control App (available on iOS and Android). It is small, weighing only 138g and measuring 132 x 72 x 35mm, but despite its size, the S2 is robust. It is waterproof and replacement microphones are also available, handy if the original microphone becomes damaged or loses sensitivity.
Elekon has designed the S2 to be easy to use and lightweight, and built to withstand fieldwork conditions. We took the opportunity on a warm evening in mid-May to test the S2’s ability.
How we tested
The S2 was set up in a hedgerow in South Devon, close to a small known roosting site.
We connected the S2 to the BATLOGGER Control App on an iPhone via Bluetooth. Once connected, the S2 determines the dusk and dawn times using the GPS location from the phone/tablet, and suggests these as automatic trigger times. We selected this automatic time window, but, you can choose and customise your own and set multiple time windows as needed.
The S2 is full spectrum with a range of 10-150kHz and a sample rate of 312.5 kHz. The default sensitivity is balanced, and we adjusted the sensitivity to ‘high’ using the App. This may lead to several unwanted calls in busier environments; however, it also ensures that it is triggered by most types of bat call, including social calls, which can sometimes be missed.
Once collected from the field after one night of deployment, the recordings were downloaded from the S2 to a computer using the USB-C to USB-C cable (if you do not have a USB-C port, you’ll need an adaptor). Helpfully, the S2 is charged using the same USB-C cable – a single charge provides 100 hours of power!
The recordings are stored on an internal microSD card, and the S2 generates two file types: an audio file (.wav) and a recording information file (.xml). The audio files allow you to listen to your recordings through bat call analysis software and the information files store important metadata such as date, location, recording time, and device settings.
What we found
The BATLOGGER Control App shows you the number of sessions recorded – the high sensitivity triggered 192 audio files over one night. We used the BatExplorer software to manage and view the S2 recordings. The software has key features such as automatic bat call detection, making sorting files very easy, and it also provides suggestions for species identification.
Of the 192 audio files, 40 of these identified the common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus). The default S2 sensitivity is ‘balanced’, this may have led to a smaller number of unwanted files (which recorded sounds other than bats). But we did not want to miss a bat call and the BatExplorer software allows you to quickly filter the unwanted files.
The echolocation frequency for common pipistrelles is approximately 45kHz, and the below images show an example of the spectrogram and call measures from a common pipistrelle recording taken at dusk and the information popout that BatExplorer produces, detailing the automatic analysis that the software carries out.
Below is an audio clip with its accompanying spectrogram of a common pipistrelle taken at dusk. The BatExplorer software allows you to customise the playback and how the spectrogram can be viewed.
The physical design and key features of the S2 makes surveying bats a simple task.
The S2 truly is discrete and lightweight, making it easy to set up in the field, and once deployed the battery life will allow up to 10 (10 hour) consecutive nights of surveying.
The setup through the BATLOGGER Control App is straightforward. The S2 conveniently uses the GPS location on your phone/tablet to determine dusk and dawn which benefits the accuracy of the recording schedules. You can choose your settings at a click of a button, and the instruction manual is clear and accessible for any help needed.
The only limitation we found is that you cannot access the recordings straight from the App. However, transferring the files across to your computer allows you to listen to and analyse the audio files with ease. The BatExplorer software (available on a 30-day free trial) enhances analysis as it allows you to review, manage, and organise your recordings.
The S2 is an impressive bat detector, and it is an ideal choice for professionals and ecological surveyors.
The Elekon Batlogger S2 can be found here. Our full range of passive full spectrum bat detectors 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or phone on 01803 865913.
We have recently received the sad news of the passing of Robert Gillmor, a leading ornithologist and author, and one of Britain’s most popular and loved wildlife artists.
Born in 1936, Gillmor’s illustrations were first published in the monthly magazine British Birds when he was just 16. Since then, he illustrated more than 100 books, as well as producing several of his own collections, including Cutting Away in 2006, Birds, Blocks And Stamps in 2011, and Pressing On: A Decade of New Linocuts in 2018. Notably, he was the artist behind the original Avocet drawings used for the RSPB logo and the Sacred Ibis in the British Ornithologists Union (BOU) logo. His artwork has also appeared in journals, calendars, greetings cards and posters. In 2015, Gillmor received an MBE for his services to wildlife art.
Gillmor also designed over seventy of the covers for the New Naturalist series, bringing to life a variety of titles including Farming and Birds; Beetles;Garden Birds; British Warblers, his first cover; and his 72nd, Ecology and Natural History. In 2011, Royal Mail commissioned Gillmor to illustrate a set of Post & Go Birds of Britain stamps. He created 46 designs over three years and the profits from the sale of the original linocuts were donated to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.
Robert Gillmor was one of the founding members of the Society of Wildlife Artists, an organisation founded in 1964 seeking to encourage appreciation of the natural world through fine art inspired by wildlife. SWLA strives to promote awareness of the importance of conservation through exhibitions and publications, while also supporting young artists that are eager to develop their knowledge and skills in wildlife art.
Gillmor was a keen ornithologist, serving on the council of three national organisations: RSPB, BOU and the British Trust for Ornithology. Due to his contributions to ornithology and bird conservation, he received the highest awards from all three societies. He also had a leading role in the promotion of the British Birdwatching Fair (Birdfair), an annual event whose organisers donated all of their profits to Birdlife International, and designed many of the event’s iconic posters.
Global forest destruction has continued, despite pledges to end deforestation during COP26. Satellite data has shown that 3.75 million hectares of tree cover disappeared across primary tropical forests in 2021, an average of 10 football pitches a minute. The rate has not significantly changed in recent years, despite over 100 world leaders signing the COP26 pledge to end deforestation within the decade. The loss was estimated to have released 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, equivalent to India’s annual emissions, the third-highest carbon-emitting country in the world. In similar news, northern regions of the world saw record tree cover losses in 2022. Figures were up 30% compared to 2020 for these boreal forests, with wildfires causing huge losses. Climate change is seen as a key driver for the losses in this area, as drier, hotter conditions are leading to more wildfires and greater damage from insects.
A 231-million-year-old fossil of an ancient ancestor to Lepidosauria has been found. Lepidosauria is a suborder of reptiles that contains all snakes and lizards, approximately 11,000 species in total. The early phase of this group’s evolution about 260-150 million years ago has remained a mystery until now. CT scans have allowed scientists to create a mosaic of colours for each bone of the skull, showing the fossil’s anatomy in high-detail resolution on a scale of only a few micrometres. The species, termed Taytalura alcoberi, is an important finding, revealing how this successful group of animals originated.
A new frog species, discovered due to genetic testing, has already been classified as endangered. The only known habitat of Philoria knowlesi, the world heritage-listed Gondwana rainforests of Australia, experienced extensive damage during the 2019-20 black summer bushfires. Queensland’s environmental department has stated that it is already moving to protect the habitat of this newly identified species, one of only seven known species of mountain frog, with a number of measures in place to support the recovery of fire-impacted areas.
A number of bird populations in Canada are declining due to forest degradation. Research led by Oregon State University has shown that many species are under stress from human-caused changes to forest composition. Breeding habitat loss impacted 66% of the 54 most common bird species in the Acadian Forest, Canada, from 1985 to 2020. This loss was strongly associated with the loss of older forests, leading to long-term bird population declines. Between 33 and 104 million birds were estimated to have been lost over the 35-year study due to forest degradation.
Over one-fifth of reptile species are at risk of extinction. A new study is calling for urgent conservation efforts after assessing over 10,000 species and finding that reptiles are under serious threat of extinction. While numerous assessments are available for birds and mammals, such comprehensive extinction risk estimates have not been completed for reptiles. At least 21% of the species assessed are categorised as being vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, compared with 41% of amphibians, 25% of mammals and 14% of birds. Conservation measures such as habitat restoration and controlling invasive species have been suggested as ways to reduce these extinction risks.
Strict controls have been implemented on the import of pine and cedar trees into Great Britain to help protect against the threat of the tree pest Pine Processionary Moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa). This species can cause significant damage to pine and other conifer trees and could potentially pose a risk to human and animal health. These new regulations ban the import of pine and cedar trees grown in countries where the Pine Processionary Moth is established, such as Italy and France, although exceptions apply in cases where Pest Free Areas are designated or where the trees have been grown under complete physical protection for their lifetime.
Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) have produced an egg in southern England for the first time in 200 years. This species became locally extinct in the early 1800s due to habitat loss and persecution by humans. Since 2017, a number of experts have been working to re-introduce ospreys to southern England by relocating adult birds from Scotland. It is hoped that this pair of ospreys at Poole Harbour, Dorset, will produce two more eggs over the week and, after a 35-40 day incubation period, the chicks will hopefully hatch by late May.
A beaver has been released to a site in west Dorset, as part of a new collaborative conservation project between the Cornish Seal Sanctuary and the Beaver Trust as part of the West Dorset wildlife Initiative. This is the first successful transfer of the project and is hoped to be “just the beginning”. Two other beavers were also transferred, with the project aiming to support the restoration of the native species through specialised captive care of youngsters.
This year’s No Mow May has begun, with gardeners being encouraged to leave their lawns unmowed and allow them to grow wild during the month. Conservation charity Plantlife stated that more than 250 plant species were reported during last year’s campaign, as leaving lawns uncut can create a biodiversity hotspot that will benefit pollinators and other insects, as well as other species such as birds. Here at our Devon offices, we will be leaving our grassy lawn un-mown for the duration of May. Last year, we were able to record 24 different flowering species and we’re hoping for even more this year!
Sharks are some of the most fascinating, most ecologically important, most threatened, and most misunderstood animals on Earth. In Why Sharks Matter: A Deep Dive with the World’s Most Misunderstood Predator, marine conservation biologist Dr David Shiffman explains why it’s crucial that we overcome our misconceptions and rise above cinematic jump scares to embrace sharks as the critically important species that they are.
Exploring the core tenets of shark conservation science and policy, Shiffman synthesises decades of scientific research and policymaking, weaving it into a narrative full of humour and adventure. Approachable and informative, Why Sharks Matter is perfect for shark enthusiasts, explaining why sharks are in trouble, why we should care and how we can save them.
Dr David Shiffman recently discussed his new book with us, explaining how he became fascinated with sharks, what is being done to change public opinion and why social science research is so important to shark conservation.
Firstly, could you tell us how you became fascinated with sharks and the inspiration behind this book?
I’ve loved sharks for as long as my family can remember, there are pictures of me when I was barely old enough to walk with shark t-shirts and shark toys. I think most kids go through a shark thing or a dinosaur thing, and I never grew out of mine. When I give public talks, inevitably someone will come up to me afterwards and say “I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was a kid”- and I always reply “Me too!”.
In my experience speaking to the public, I’ve realized that lots of people want to help sharks, but don’t necessarily know the most effective ways to do that. And while there are lots of shark books out there, there was nothing that comprehensively lays out the case for having healthy shark populations off our coasts, systematically reviews the different threats to shark species, and thoroughly reviews the different ways that scientists, environmentalists, and the public can help sharks. In short, I wrote the book that I always wished existed, because I know there’s a need for it.
The book does an impressive job of debunking the public image of sharks as dangerous and violent predators. Outside of your own work, what is, if anything, being done to change public opinion about sharks?
As a marine conservation biologist who studies sharks and how to protect them, I know that we need the public to not only no longer fear sharks, but to value the role they play in the ecosystem and to want them around. And I also know that it matters what people do to help, and that there are lots of things that people do while trying to help that are not really helping. I use this book as a chance to bust some myths not only about sharks as mindless killing machines, but also myths about threats to sharks and solutions to these conservation challenges. The subtitle doesn’t call them “the world’s most misunderstood predator” for nothing! In the book, I introduce readers to some of my favourite environmental non-profits who are working to educate the public and persuade policymakers that we need new and stronger laws. If you’re looking for good groups to support, I am happy to recommend them to you.
What do you think is the biggest threat to sharks and what can the average person do to help?
The science is clear on this point: the biggest threat to sharks is unsustainable overfishing, including but not limited to the shark fin trade (which many well-intentioned shark-o-philes wrongly believe is that only threat to sharks). The single most effective thing that an individual consumer can do to help not only sharks but the whole ocean is to not eat unsustainable seafood. Notice that I did not say “give up all seafood and become vegan,” because while that’s a perfectly valid personal choice, the people claiming that we all need to do this or the oceans are doomed are not telling the truth. If you, like me, love seafood, just choose to buy sustainable seafood.
You share a range of scientific tools used to monitor sharks, from eDNA to telemetry tracking, but you also highlight the importance of social science research. Why do you think this approach is important to shark conservation?
A major goal of the conservation movement is passing new laws or regulations to protect endangered species, but notably these laws do not limit what the animals can do, they only control humans. Therefore, we need to understand what humans want, what humans do, and what humans know–and these are questions that the social sciences are designed to answer.
What is your vision for the future of shark conservation? Are you hopeful or pessimistic?
I am cautiously optimistic about the future of the ocean. More people care and want to help than ever before, and if we can channel that energy into something productive, we can move mountains!
And lastly, do you have any current projects or plans for the future that you would like to tell us about?
I’m always on the move, always up to some new project. If anyone would like to follow my adventures, or to ask me anything you want to know about sharks, I invite you to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @WhySharksMatter.
Practical and portable, this is the ultimate field guide to the world’s cetaceans. This is the most comprehensive, authoritative and up-to-date guide to whales, dolphins and porpoises. Containing more than 500 accurate illustrations – complete with detailed annotations pointing out the most significant field marks – this new field guide covers all 93 species and every subspecies in the world.
The informative text, produced in collaboration with many of the world’s most respected whale biologists, is accompanied by distribution maps, size demonstrations, dive sequences and additional information such as comparisons of silhouettes and illustrations of barnacles, lice and callosities.
Cetacean expert Mark Carwardine kindly took the time to discuss this new field guide with us, discussing how the outlook for cetaceans has changed since he first began to study them, why he chose to use illustrations over photographs and what he is working on now.
What inspired you to write this new field guide and how does it differ from your previous handbook?
The Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises was the culmination of a life’s work, really, and took six years to research and write. It was designed as a comprehensive reference book to be used at home or in the office – and, consequently, weighs almost as much as a small porpoise. The pocket-sized Field Guide to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises is an abbreviated (and fully updated) version, focusing more on identification, and it has been designed specifically to take into the field. Since our knowledge of cetaceans has improved so much, with new behaviour and many new species described in recent years, previous field guides (my own included) are drastically out of date. I think a new guide was desperately needed.
Your book includes a number of threatened species, including the functionally extinct Yangtze river dolphin and the vaquita, many of which we may lose entirely over the next decade. How has the outlook for whales, dolphins and porpoises changed since you first started to study cetaceans?
There’s no doubt that for many cetacean species, if not most, the outlook is worse than it was when I started working in this field. Some – the humpback whale is a good example – are doing surprisingly well, against all odds. But many others are not. The vaquita, we believe, is down to the last 10 individuals and is almost certainly the next (after the Yangtze river dolphin) doomed to extinction. Sadly, though, it’s not alone. The North Atlantic right whale comes to mind – there are fewer than 350 survivors and, with numbers continuing to decline, we fear for its future. Countless others are on the verge of extinction or have all but disappeared from many of their former haunts. Sometimes, I am surprised that any survive at all, given the shocking number of threats they face, such as commercial whaling and other forms of hunting, myriad conflicts with fisheries, pollution, habitat degradation and disturbance, underwater noise, entanglement in or ingestion of marine debris, ship strikes and climate change.
This field guide is full of beautiful and detailed illustrations. Why did you choose to include these rather than photographs?
I prefer the use of illustrations in field guides, because I think they demonstrate the key identification features more effectively. Also, there is a huge amount of variation within each species of cetacean – geographical variations, races and sub-species etc – and good photographs do not exist of many of the most critical ones!
Relatively little is known about the population estimates or trends of many of the species listed in this book. Why do you think this is the case, and is there ongoing research taking place to fill these knowledge gaps?
It’s true to say that our knowledge of cetaceans has grown from virtually nothing to just a little bit – despite decades of wild whale research. They are incredibly difficult animals to study, because they spend most of their lives underwater, often live far out to sea and regularly travel vast distances. They are even more difficult to count. I take people to see the friendly grey whales in San Ignacio Lagoon, Mexico, every year and we have fun trying to estimate the number of whales within the relatively small lagoon. Everyone comes up with wildly different numbers. Just imagine trying to estimate the number of minke whales, for example, in the North Atlantic. In some cases, a species is so rare that we know every individual and have an accurate population size. But in many cases it’s an informed guesstimate. The key thing is to be able to compare these guesstimates from time to time and place to place to get relative population trends. And, with some exceptions, I do think we have a pretty good idea about which species are declining and which are doing relatively well.
Is there anything that you are currently working on or do you have any plans for future projects that you would like to tell us about?
Well, I’ll never stop spending as much time with whales, dolphins and porpoises as possible! And I’ll be keeping the field guide up-to-date, of course, for future editions. But I’ve also been working on a book closer to home, called RSPB How to Photograph Garden Birds, which will be out early next year (to tie in with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch). It started as an excuse during lockdown to photograph my own garden birds but, as I developed and discovered more tricks and techniques, it gradually turned into a book. One thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to travel to far-flung corners of the world to take great pictures of wildlife. Indeed, some of the most memorable and eye-catching images I’ve ever seen – especially while judging umpteen wildlife photography competitions over the years – have been of common and familiar species taken close to home. Yet these more ‘ordinary’ subjects tend to be ignored by many photographers. They are considered too obvious or insufficiently compelling (although I’ve never understood why because, by any standard, many of our garden birds are strikingly beautiful). While there are countless awe-inspiring images of polar bears and humpback whales, when was the last time you saw a truly inspirational image of a house sparrow or a robin, for example? Exactly. Hopefully, that’s where this book will help and inspire.