Book Review: Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet

***** An eye-opening and thought-provoking reportage

Crossings book covering showing yellow text on top of an image of a winding road snaking through an evergreen forest.The road to hell might be paved with good intentions, but the roads to pretty much everywhere else are paved with the corpses of animals. In Crossings, environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb explores the outsized yet underappreciated impacts of the ~65 million kilometres of roads that hold the planet in a paved stranglehold. These extend beyond roadkill to numerous other insidious biological effects. The relatively young discipline of road ecology tries to gauge and mitigate them and sees biologists join forces with engineers and roadbuilders. This is a wide-ranging and eye-opening survey of the situation in the USA and various other countries.

As Goldfarb points out, roadkill is as old as the road but the phenomenon went into overdrive with the invention of the combustion engine and a new-found need for speed that menaced humans and animals alike. With the morbid curiosity typical of biologists, Dayton and Lilian Stoner published the first tally of motorcar casualties in 1925, in the process diagnosing “a malady with no name” (p. 16), as the word roadkill would not be coined for another two decades. The word road ecology was only coined in 1993 by Richard Forman, though it was translated from the German Straßenökologie that was coined in 1981 by Heinz Ellenberg.

As a discipline, road ecology both studies the impact of roads and formulates solutions. Particularly common, and featured extensively in this book, are wildlife crossings. Underpasses serve many animals but others have different needs such as overpasses or canopy rope bridges. Amphibians and reptiles are given a helping hand with toad tunnels and bucket brigades. Fish migration is being restored by retrofitting culverts that are better navigable.

An empty long, winding road running through trees going down a hill.
The long and winding road by Mussi Katz, via flickr.

To us, roads are the unnoticed connective tissue that links places of extraction with industry and commerce, and shuttles commuters between home and work. For other animals, they are barriers: despite the good intentions, wildlife crossings cannot serve all animals equally and cannot be constructed everywhere. Millions of animals still die in collisions every day. Goldfarb addresses the very real concerns of extirpation, habitat fragmentation, interrupted migrations, and noise pollution. With roads come humans who bring deforestation, hunting, real estate development, urban sprawl, tourism, etc.

Amidst this litany of harms, Goldfarb features several topics that will be eye-opening even to ecologists. There is the little-known history of how the US Forest Service constructed one of the world’s largest road networks of now mostly abandoned forest tracks. Roads also feed a diverse community of scavengers that includes humans; a necrobiome that “airbrushes our roadsides, camouflaging a crisis by devouring it” (p. 181). In Syracuse, Goldfarb faces the racist legacy of interstate highways that were bulldozed straight through Black and Latino neighbourhoods. Plans are now afoot to reverse this wrong, move the highway, and create a community where people can again walk to their destinations. In a brilliant flourish, Goldfarb connects this back to the book’s main topic: “Road ecologists and urban advocates are engaged in the same epic project: creating a world that’s amenable to feet” (p. 287).

Badbury Rings Avenue in Dorset showing a long downhill slope with large oak trees either side.
Badbury Rings Avenue – No HDR by JackPeasePhotography, via flickr.

So far, so good. Goldfarb’s writing shines and certain turns of phrase are memorable. I was initially concerned how US-centric this book would be. Though weighted towards US examples, Goldfarb also visits Wales, Costa Rica, Tasmania, and Brazil, and discusses several European initiatives.

Despite the gloomy picture, there are some encouraging signs. The US Forest Service has started decommissioning parts of its road network. Brazil, meanwhile, shows what government regulation can achieve. Here, highway operators are held legally responsible for dealing with the harm and costs resulting from collisions. Contrast this with the USA, Goldfarb observes sharply, where individual drivers are blamed for collisions. This “deflects culpability from the car companies building ever more massive SUVs and the engineers designing unsafe streets” (p. 295). As with addressing climate change, individual action only gets us so far; making roads safer demands systemic change, “a public works project, one of history’s most colossal” (p. 296).

And yet, something nagged at me. The focus on mitigation smacks of a palliative solution and Goldfarb concedes the limitations of road ecology. Crossings and fences will not stop the many other impacts of roads and risk becoming “a form of greenwashing […] a fig leaf that conceals and rationalizes destruction” (p. 265). As with other environmental problems, should we not first focus on abandoning or reducing certain behaviours, instead of turning to techno-fixes? Can we imagine something more radical? Can Goldfarb?

 

Tarmac country road running between two oil seed rape fields.
Country road and yellow field by Susanne Nilsson, via flickr.

To his credit, he admits wrestling with this problem. “The most straightforward solution to the road’s ills would be a collective rejection of automobility […] In the course of writing this book, I’ve felt, at times, like a defeatist—as though, by extolling wildlife passages, I foreclose the possibility of a more radical, carless future” (p. 295). I would have loved to see him explore this further in a dedicated chapter. Instead, Goldfarb comes down on the side of pragmatism. Bicycles and public transport are great for making urban areas more liveable, but most roadkill happens elsewhere. Furthermore, personal mobility is only part of the story, with logistics making up a huge chunk of traffic. The eye-opening chapter on Brazil, and the outsized influence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative that sees it invest in infrastructure globally, is a forceful reminder that the developmental juggernaut is nigh impossible to slow down. One road ecologist points out that you cannot seriously enter the discussion around roads if you oppose social and economic development, while another chimes in that, whether we like it or not, more roads will be built. Although I do not think resistance is futile, Goldfarb leaves me sympathetic to the road ecologists who are desperately trying to nudge construction projects in directions “that, if not quite “right,” are at least less wrong” (p. 270).

Goldfarb acknowledges the input of some 250 people and even then stresses his book is far from the final word on the subject. He encourages readers to take it as a starting point and read deeper, providing 43 pages of notes to the many sources of information he has used. I would additionally recommend A Clouded Leopard in the Middle of the Road by Australian road ecologist Darryl Jones which was published last year but seems to have flown under the radar compared to Goldfarb’s book. Overall, Crossings is a wide-ranging, eye-opening, and thought-provoking reportage that deserves top marks.

Equipment in Focus: Royal Entomological Society Bug Hunting Kits

Shows the bug kit- containing a net, ID guide, pooter and collecting pots

The Royal Entomological Society (RES) is an organisation dedicated to advancing the field of insect science. Through encouraging open communication, research and publication, the RES hopes to enrich the world with entomology 

Developed in collaboration with the RES, the Royal Entomological Society Bug Hunting Kits provide naturalist users with the tools to safely capture, observe and identify British insects. Kitted with sweep nets, collecting pots and a pooter to capture your insects, you will also be provided with a hand lens, ID guide and optional forceps for identification of species you find. 

Suited for aspiring entomologists, The Royal Entomological Society Educational Bug Hunting Kit includes a copy of A Naturalists Guide to The Insects of Britain and Northern Europe. The Royal Entomological Society Advanced Bug Hunting Kit provides a technical alternative for more experienced naturalists, with additional pointed forceps and the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects. Here we take a closer look at what’s included in these exclusive kits.  


A hand holding a net, sweeping in a bush of nettles.

As seen on Countryfile, the Standard Sweep Net provides users with a simple, lightweight (280g) net for catching invertebrates. The short, 15cm handle has a foam grip for improved control and a lightweight aluminium frame. The net itself is made in the UK and features a soft calico bag attached via Velcro to the frame, making it easy to remove for washing.

 

A hand holding a pooter- a plastic chamber with two long plastic tubes used to entrap invertebrates

At the core of this kit is the NHBS Insect Pooter. Expertly designed and manufactured at our facilities in Devon, this piece of kit can safely capture a wide range of invertebrates. Affordable and simple to use, this item allows the user to observe specimens in a see-through chamber. The chamber is topped with a 2.5× magnification lens for easy viewing and identification. The pooters components can be removed and cleaned for sanitation between sampling.  

 

An alder fly in a collecting pot on a page of an identification guide showing species of flying insects

Each kit comes with five 60ml Collecting Pots for specimen handling and collection. The collecting pots have secure screw-on lids, made with see-through polypropylene for easy, clear viewing.  

 

A hand holding a magnifying hand lens over a ladybird on a leaf.

The handy Double Loupe Hand Lens provided with this kit is only 30mm in diameter, comprising two silicate glass lenses, 5× and 10× magnification. The lenses of this sturdy pocket magnifier fold into a protective casing, keeping them clear from scratches between use. Lightweight and compact, this hand lens is highly portable and is ideal for people of all ages. 

 

a pair of metal forceps with a beetle on a muddy tree stump

Made from a non-magnetic stainless-steel alloy, the Super Fine Pointed Forceps are manufactured with fine points for precision use. Included with the Advanced Bug Hunting Kit, these precise forceps are not serrated to minimise damage to delicate specimens, and at 11cm are a handy size for transportation and use in-field.  

 

Front cover of the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects

Provided with the Advanced Bug Hunting Kit, the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects is a photographic field guide to common and unusual insect species across Britain. This extensive work covers over 1,500 species, providing descriptions and detailing where, and when, to observe them. With detailed photographs for each species, differences between similar organisms are highlighted to aid identification. This book covers a range of insects, from bugs and bees to moths and mayflies.  

 

Front cover of a Naturalists guide to the insects of britain and northern europe

A Naturalists Guide to the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe is provided with the Educational Bug Hunting Kit. This easy-to-use ID guide is ideal for nonspecialist naturalists, with high quality photos of over 280 insect species. A description of appearance, associated habitats, habits and conservation status are outlined for each species. The guide also includes life cycles and describes the conservation of the group.     

 


The mission of The Royal Entomological Society is to enrich the world with insect science- doing this through events, books and supporting young people in gaining skills in entomology.

The Royal Entomological Society receives 10% from the sale of this kit to support their cause.

Spring Exploring: Equipment for Wildlife Watching

As spring emerges, naturalists across the UK are dusting off their kit to begin exploring the great outdoors. From bird watching to bug hunting, we have equipment to help you explore. Below, we have compiled a list of must-have equipment for wildlife watching this spring. 


Viking Cygnus Monocular 

Young boy looking through a monocular in the woods.
The Viking Cygnus Monocular in-field.

Excellent optics combined with a grippy, rubberised armour make this handy monocular the ideal companion this spring. At only 287g, The Viking Cygnus Monocular is a lightweight, showerproof monocular with a small form factor, designed for easy handling for any hand size. Created for quick access and target acquisition, this monocular features a smooth action barrel adjuster for precise focus adjustment and a larger objective lens for high colour imagery.  

For a smaller, even more lightweight alternative weighing only 140g, the 8×25 MK2 magnification monocular is ideal for quick and easy use, where a smaller objective diameter lens is counteracted by its handy size. 

Opticron Explorer Compact Binoculars 

Black binoculars.

The Explorer Compact Binoculars by Opticron would make an excellent addition to any naturalists kit this spring. A fully armoured, roof prism body provides comfort and extra grip for comfortable carrying infield. With a weatherproof, fold-down design, these are ideal for transport, and can be stored easily due to their size and weight (195g). The ribbed focus wheel and twist-type eye cups ensure a good field of view with easy focusing, and the use of multicoloured lens and high reflection coated prisms provide bright, crisp images. Available in 8 x 21 and 10 x 21.  

Nikon Sportstar EX DCF Compact Binoculars 

Black binoculars

Available in 8×25 and 10×25, these high-quality, pocket-sized binoculars are waterproof and fog free. Turn and slide rubber eye cups allow for easy positioning, and multilayer coated lenses deliver a high optical performance with great clarity and well-balanced colour. The field of view is ideal for observing large landscapes, and partnered with a good close focusing distance, these compact binoculars also work great with insects. Weighing only 300g, these ultra-lightweight binoculars are ideal for travelling or working infield.  

Crushable Pocket Butterfly Net

A hand holding a butterfly net

Designed with a spring steel frame, this Crushable Pocket Butterfly net can twist for an easy collapse and can be folded down to pocket-size. This foldable, yet robust design allows for easy transportation and storage whilst in-field. The net is supplied with a short, brass handle but can also be used with telescopic and push-fit net handles if you wish to extend its reach.  

Walkstool Basic 

A black and grey folding stool.

Designed and manufactured in Sweden, the Walkstool Basic is a simple, 3-point stool made for outdoorsmen of any kind. Suitable for home use and in-field work, this compact resting stool weighs only 725g, making it ideal for packing and transporting. Available in 24”, the Walkstool Basic is designed with comfort and sturdy support in mind. This highly portable stool has plastic foot ends and telescopic, extendable legs to account for uneven terrain. The sturdy aluminium frame and durable polyester seat make this stool a worthy addition to any explorers kit this spring.  

Pocket Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland 

A hand holding a small book with a bumblebee on the front.

This handy, pocket-sized guide to the naturally occurring bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland is a richly illustrated work accessible to beginners and more experienced naturalists alike. Each species has a dedicated double page spread, detailing its characteristics, habitat, distribution and sex differentiation, among others. This portable pocket guide provides an ‘at-a-glance’ guide to species. Ideal for exploring this spring, this handy book provides an informative peak into the world of bumblebee identification.  

Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland  

A hand holding a guide to butterflies with a background of grass

Another publication in the Bloomsbury Wildlife Guides collection, the Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland features over 600 detailed illustrations on each species and their life stages. Detailing species information, distribution and life history, this pocketbook provides an accessible, easytouse guide to butterflies in Britain.   

Field Studies Council Fold-out Guides  

Identification guide showing seaweed species

The Field Studies Council Fold-out Guides are ideal for days where full-size field guides are cumbersome. These handy species identification charts cover an eclectic range of themes, from mammal tracks and woodland plants to seashells and jellyfish. These weatherproof guides are a practical accompaniment to a spring stroll, find the full collection here 

No Mow May: A Celebration of Wildflower Power

This spring, traditional British lawns are out. Throughout the month of May, Plantlife urges us to let our gardens be wild with #NoMowMay. This exciting initiative encourages us to embrace a wild lawn this spring, providing plants, invertebrates and other wildlife the opportunity to make our gardens a home. No Mow May could transform your green spaces into a colourful kaleidoscope of flowers you never knew were there. From buttercups to bee orchids, here at NHBS we have had an astonishing array of wildflowers in previous years, and we are hoping that this year will be the same!

Knowing when, and how, to mow your lawn to encourage wildflower growth and minimise grass domination can be confusing, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to supporting native wildlife. In anticipation of May, we outline the important things to consider when maintaining your lawn over the coming seasons.


Tightly manicured garden lawns are unable to host the diverse communities associated with a natural space. The artificially constructed environment, with uniform grass length and limited species, prevents our native wildflowers from blooming and our vital insects from settling. Lawn feeds and fertilisers often used to maintain our lawns can result in unnaturally high levels of soil fertility. Such levels can unintentionally diminish the diversity of flora within our gardens, since native wildflowers are adapted to low-nutrient conditions. Associated with higher carbon emissions, time consumption and overall cost, many are steering clear of a high maintenance lawn this spring. 

A spring-flowering lawn provides a whole host of benefits for the wildlife within our gardens. Opting for a wild, native lawn provides essential breeding habitats, food sources and physical protection for a number of species. These spaces give wildflowers a chance to bloom and set seed, benefitting both insects, and the predators who rely on them.  

 

A bee orchid in the centre, in front of a wild lawn
Our Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) from #NoMowMay 2022. Image by Oli Haines.

So, how and when should we mow?   

Less is more! Switching up your mowing routine, or refraining from a mow in some areas, is a great way to maximise diversity in your garden. After a short time, your outdoor spaces can flourish into a haven for wildlife. From voles to vetches, and even British reptiles, watch your garden transform from monoculture to a wild refuge.  

Varied grass length, wild edges, or longer patches of lawn are great for attracting local wildlife to your garden. You may find orchids, ox-eye daisy and knapweed in these longer areas, which also provide cover for small mammals that may be wandering through, and shorter areas can boost pollen availability from low-lying flowers, like buttercups and clover. Plantlife advocates for a varied mowing approach with longer patches throughout the garden, alongside shorter areas (aiming to mimic grazing pressures of different herbivorous species in the wild). For instance, you might decide to maintain shorter pathways and areas around patios, but allow other areas of your green spaces to grow freely.  

It is important to remove cuttings after lawn maintenance to prevent excess nitrogen in the soil, thus reducing nitrophilic plants (species with a preference for nitrate rich habitat, typically from fertilisers and the decomposition of organic material) in your garden. ‘Cut and rot’ management can be counterproductive when cultivating wildflowers, as low levels of soil nutrition are preferred by many and will harbour the most diversity. In fact, frequent fertilisation and additional nutrition can result in an overall decline of wildflowers, leading to a dominance of nitrophilic plant species.   

A garden during No Mow May with varied grass length, wildlife corridors and vegetable patches.
A garden with varied grass length during No Mow May. Image by Allan Harris via Flickr.

Knowing when, and how, to mow during the year is key to maximise flowering of wildflower species, while simultaneously preventing grass domination: to do this, it is generally recommended to mow three times a year; early spring, late summer and in autumn.  

A 3-inch, early spring mow is beneficial to kickstart the season, promoting early growth and blooming.  An early mow can also help to tackle nitrophiles, like nettles and cow parsley. This can help to prevent competition, allowing wildflowers to grow undisturbed. However, be wary of mowing too early, as this can prevent wildflower seeding and will impact your gardens growth next year.  

A summer mow in late July, or August, removes the previous growth, encouraging the bloom of wildflowers later in the season. As far as insects are concerned, the later the mow, the better. Insect species tend to hatch in the warmer parts of spring and summer, so a mow in late August will prevent harm to hatching individuals. 

Around late November, an autumn mow can help to promote reseeding and encourages germination in the following spring. Allow the wildflowers in your lawn to finish flowering and let them go to seed, a mow after this allows the seedheads to disperse seeds into your lawn. An autumn cut can also keep grass growth under control, further encouraging germination.  

There are also certain considerations to be wary of when forming wild areas in your garden. These habitats will attract a great number of species, who may make your lawn a home. Best practice involves leaving an area of your lawn untouched to house these species, but if you are looking to tidy up your garden after No Mow May, wildlife must be considered. Wildlife in our lawns can be harmed in the process of tidying up our outside spaces. It is recommended to disturb, or walk through patches to be maintained to shoo species from the area. On the first mow, start with a higher cut to give smaller animals a chance to escape. When mowing the lawn, start with garden paths and areas of high footfall, working toward the edges of the garden. This, again, provides wildlife with an escape route through the boundaries of your garden. If your garden has fences or hedgerows, a wildlife corridor along your borders is another way to support visiting animals. Untouched, or lightly managed, strips along these areas can provide a safe space for travel around the garden, providing cover and protection from predators.  

hedgehog looking out from a bush
Hedgehog by Kalle Gustafsson via Flickr.

How can we prepare for No Mow May?  

If you currently use fertilisers, lawn feed, moss killers or pesticides, abandoning the use of these additives in your garden will allow the soil to recover from these harmful chemicals. This can provide microscopic and invertebrate soil communities a chance to recover, improving the overall health of your soil.  

For some of us, early bloomers may already be present in our gardens. Cowslip, violets and primroses may be popping up on our lawns, showcasing the first few flowers of the season. You may consider allowing these to go undisturbed, giving them a head start for spring. Having said that, the best way to prepare for No Mow May is a 3-inch April cut to encourage a strong period of spring growth.  

Whether or not you decide to mow the lawn this spring, consider leaving an area of your garden wild. Whether this be a natural lawn or rough borders, we hope you feel inspired to take part in this year’s #NoMowMay! 

 

Neil Middleton on the 4th edition of Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists

The 4th edition of Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists: Good Practice Guidelines is the latest update of the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) Guidelines and features new content on biosecurity, night-vision aids, tree surveys and auto-identification for bat sound analysis. Several key chapters have been expanded, and new tools, techniques and recommendations included. It is a key resource for professional ecologists carrying out surveys for development and planning.

Neil Middleton is a licensed bat worker and trainer. He is the Managing Director of BatAbility which offers bat-related and business skills development courses and training throughout the UK and Europe. He kindly agreed to take the time to write an article for us which will help ecologists and bat workers assess some of the key content and changes within the 4th edition of the Bat Survey Guidelines, and evaluate how this is likely to impact you, your colleagues and your business.


I have been asked to write this blog for NHBS regarding the recently published 4th edition of the BCT Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists: Good Practice Guidelines. Straight away I feel I should say that, broadly speaking, we (BatAbility) are supportive of the overall spirit of intent that these new guidelines are seeking to achieve.

The contributors to the finished work and the editor of the final draft will have, I’m sure, had much debate about the final wording of the guidelines. It certainly cannot have been an easy task to come up with approaches that a broad range of experienced people, each with different backgrounds, were able to fully agree upon (or at least not disagree). In addition to which, these guidelines need to cater for all the component parts of the UK, where differences in legislation, planning, licensing etc. apply.

What follows are my thoughts on why you need to be up to speed with what’s happening. When I discuss some of the points you need to be aware of, it’s not that I am criticising or disagreeing with what has been produced, it is more that I am encouraging you to think about things that may not immediately be apparent when it comes to impacting (positively or negatively) upon your daily business operations.

Broadly speaking, these Good Practice Guidelines are what we all need to be referring to now for guidance and, barring any new properly released formal material direct from BCT (i.e. it doesn’t matter what someone says on a social media post or during a webinar) that either updates, changes or gives additional explanation to what is in the 4th edition, this is where we, as a community, are at. BCT have confirmed that a few changes to the text will be made by way of an amendment document and this, in conjunction with printed Q&A material resulting from BCT webinars (November 2023 and February 2024), will prove to be essential complimentary reading for everyone relying upon these guidelines during their day-to-day work.

At this stage, I feel that it is also important to say, and BCT have been very keen to emphasise this point (e.g. during their webinars on the subject), that the guidance is very clear about deviating from its approaches where specific cases and/or experienced, professional judgement suggests that a different approach can be taken for good reason, provided that it is fully disclosed and discussed within generated outputs (e.g. reports going to local planning departments). The material produced is described as ‘guidelines’ after all, and should not be used prescriptively when common sense, good scientific rationale or proportionality, as examples, suggests otherwise.

These updated guidelines were keenly awaited by bat workers for some time leading up to their publication.The driving force behind the update was thought mainly to be the integration of Night Vision Aids (NVAs) into our bat survey approach, as initially described within an Interim Guidance Note published in May 2022 and covered in this article on the BCT website.

I mention this for two reasons. Firstly, it’s what I feel almost everyone was genuinely expecting. Secondly, these revised guidelines don’t (as anticipated rightly or wrongly!) fully address some of the specific aspects of where the NVA debate is going to finally arrive. Regarding this aspect of bat work, the finer detail around this matter is now being tackled by a review panel, and BCT will inform us as/when they are in a position to do so. In the meantime, the Interim Guidance (2022) remains as an additional, essential point of referral. Having said that, within these new guidelines there are regular pointers, reminders and requirements that NVAs should be incorporated within survey design.

So, why do we need to pay any attention to these new guidelines? If they are not telling us about the specifics of the NVA approach, then you may very well think that there’s not much value in getting your own copy and reading through, yet again, what was there before. Yes, you may very well think that. Yes, you would be very wrong.

There is so much in here that is going to make your life as a bat consultant different to how it was up until last year (2023). There are undoubtedly elephants potentially in some people’s rooms. But an hour after sunset when it’s too dark to see, some people may not be aware that elephants lurk (well not unless they have an NVA, and it’s pointing in the right direction). There are resourcing implications, cost implications, tendering implications, health and safety implications – there are all of these and more that you need to be aware of. And by implications I mean a mix of positives and negatives. It is a classic situation whereby in solving a range of issues and making clarifications on others, new issues and opportunities inevitably arise.

From a surveyor’s point of view, the dreaded dawn work is mostly redundant, although I feel there are still going to be occasions from a bat behaviour point of view, and from a health and safety point of view (e.g. working within busy town centre areas) where dawns could still occasionally be a better, or even a desirable approach. The guidelines certainly don’t say you should never do a dawn survey again, full stop.

From a business owner’s perspective there are matters that will need serious consideration and budgeting for. This could impact (again negatively or positively) upon your turnover, your approach to tendering, resourcing, the deployment of staff and equipment, as well as the careful balancing of your team’s time at their desks versus time in the field. All of this, of course, needs to be considered against the benefits to bat conservation. The challenge on the business model is not necessarily a bad thing, provided you are fore-armed and have seriously thought through how these changes impact upon your organisation.

Please don’t construe that I am not supportive of what these guidelines are seeking to achieve. In many respects, from a conservation perspective, I feel things have moved closer to where they should be. Balanced against this, however, I urge you to be aware that you need to get your head around the new approaches as a matter of urgency, and build into your day-to-day workings methods of adapting to the changes.

There is neither the time nor the space to cover it all here, and to do so would merely be to repeat what was contained in the guidelines in any case. What I am seeking to do is alert you to the fact that, despite how much you may have seen on social media etc. relating to the NVA debate, there are arguably equally as BIG matters contained within the new edition that don’t relate to the use of NVAs.

Here are some key points of where things have really changed, in my view:

  • Dawn surveys are pretty much redundant, as we are now pressed to doing dusk surveys with NVAs. This is great from a work-life balance, but it also removes up to 50% of the previously available time slots on your survey calendar.
  • NVAs are to be deployed on pretty much every emergence survey, covering the survey subject as fully as possible, with the associated implications for reviewing all that footage and storage of data. Video footage is much larger than the pure audio that you will have been accustomed to.
  • A licenced bat worker is required to be present for any field work where a licensable situation could occur, no matter how likely or unlikely, be that structures or trees. Following the definite statements in the 4th edition, there is no longer any ‘wiggle room’ on this issue.
  • Bats and Trees – aerial assessment (be that by ladder, rope or MEWP) is pretty much the desired approach, meaning that this will be a greater part of these jobs and, in conjunction with this, licensed bat worker(s) will need to be present.
  • Due to the increased requirement for licensed bat workers to be present far more often than previously was the case, and the increase in tree climbing work where licensed bat worker(s) should also be used, there are resourcing implications that need to be considered when it comes to training in these areas. It is important to be aware that not every licensed bat worker within a business is either capable of or desires to climb trees. Also, in some business models, the licensed person/people are in more senior positions where their presence in the field conflicts directly with the role they are being asked to perform for the business (e.g. team management, client meetings, tendering, business process improvement). So, for some businesses, depending upon their current resources of licensed bat workers, there may need to be a rethink.

What I have described above is most definitely not the full suite of changes, but hopefully it’s enough to demonstrate that you need to get on top of what’s in there.

The key message is, if you haven’t already got yourself a copy and read it through in detail, then as a matter of urgency you should do so. Then you will be able to consider how you are going to achieve what is required.


The 4th edition of Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists is available as a downloadable non-printable version direct from the BCT website.

Also available as hard copy from nhbs.com – remember to use your BCT membership number to get a 20% discount.

This week in biodiversity news – 13th November 2023

Extinction Risk

First images of a lost echidna species prove that it is not extinct. An expedition to the sacred Cyclops Mountains in Indonesia uncovered evidence of Attenborough’s Long-beaked Echidna. Echidnas are ancient egg-laying mammals thought to have emerged 200 million years ago when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Until now, the only evidence for this particular species of echidna, named after Sir David Attenborough, was a museum specimen. Scientists hope that the discovery of living echidnas will help make the case for conservation efforts in the Cyclops Mountains. In addition to the echidna, new species of insects and frogs were discovered alongside healthy populations of birds of paradise and tree kangaroos.

Echidna by Rod Waddington via Flickr. (Species differs from that mentioned in the above text).

Fewer than half of Bornean Sun Bears survive after release due to habitat loss and poaching, according to a recent study. Sun Bears are a keystone species in the jungles of South-East Asia, helping to sustain healthy forest ecosystems; however, fewer than 10,000 Sun Bears are thought to remain in the wild due to pressures from deforestation, habitat degradation and poaching. The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) looks after Sun Bears rescued from captivity and releases them back into the wild. A recent study has shown that many released Sun Bears die due to the dangers they encounter in the wild, including poaching, territorial disputes and starvation. A lack of familiarity with their new surroundings may also contribute to this high death toll despite the released bears being skilled climbers and foragers.

Malayan Sun Bear by cuatrok77 via Flickr.
Conservation

An ambitious project in the Fens seeks to reclaim thousands of acres for nature. The Great Fen Project, organised by Wildlife Trust conservationists, aims to purchase 9,000 acres of farmland around two Fenland nature reserves to allow water to return to the land. This will support the formation of water meadows, streams and pools which will encourage wetland species such as Bittern and Marsh Harrier. By rewetting fields, it also seeks to preserve peat and reduce carbon emissions. With a projected price tag of around £30 million, the project will be one of the most ambitious restoration projects in all of Europe.

Wicken Fen by Alex Brown via Flickr.

Svalbard is letting nature take back one of its massive coal mines. The Svea mine in Svalbard, Norway, which produced 34 million metric tonnes of coal over its lifetime, is undergoing a significant natural restoration project. The restoration effort, costing approximately 1.6 billion Norwegian kroner (€1.35 million), aims to return the site to its natural state, allowing nature to reclaim the land. This move is part of Norway’s commitment to preserving the wilderness of Svalbard, as the region transitions away from the fossil fuel industry, closing coal mines and shifting towards tourism and scientific research.

Climate Crisis

Surges in jellyfish numbers in UK waters are an indication of warming oceans, according to the Marine Conservation Society. The number of jellyfish seen on UK beaches has increased by 32% in the past year. Warm water jellyfish such as the Crystal Jellyfish have been spotted following global ocean temperatures reaching a record high in August and marine heatwaves in June which caused UK sea temperatures to rise by 3–4°C. Experts have said that more research will be needed to determine the exact cause of the jellyfish blooms this year.

Jellyfish on Cefn Sidan Sands by Reading Tom via Flickr.

Global temperatures will reach the 1.5°C threshold this decade, according to a new report. In 2015, countries agreed to take measures to hold global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as part of the Paris Climate Agreement. New research by a team of scientists from Columbia University and NASA suggests that this goal is already out of reach, which may raise alarm bells at the coming COP28 climate talks. Other estimates suggest that the threshold will be breached in the 2030s.

Education and awareness

The RSPB is to give under 25s free access to its nature reserves in a bid to increase youth engagement with nature. The charity is set to roll out the two-year pilot program this month. The programme seeks to address what research has shown to be a dip in nature connectedness in teenage years. Similar worries prompted the government to introduce a new GCSE in natural history, and other nature charities are seeking to focus on outreach to the younger generations.

RSPB Fowlmere by Airwolfhound via Flickr.
Discoveries

Chimpanzees in Ivory Coast have been observed using military-like tactics to gain an advantage over rivals, a study has revealed. Chimps were observed seeking high ground for reconnaissance missions and making strategic decisions based on the size and proximity of rival groups. This behaviour, similar to the concept of “occupying the high ground” in warfare, may have deep evolutionary roots, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge. 20,000 hours of recordings revealed that chimps would climb hills at the edge of their territories, rest quietly at the top to listen for nearby rivals, and then decide whether to advance or retreat. While many animals take to higher ground to keep watch, chimp tactics are more sophisticated, anticipating where conflict may occur, assessing risk, and making collective decisions on how to proceed.

Chimpanzee by Nigel Hoult via Flickr.
Diplomacy

An agreement has been reached for a loss and damage fund in the run-up to COP28. The fund, which aims to help countries cope with the irreversible effects of climate change, had been established last year at COP27, but negotiations had come to a standstill over which organisation would administer the fund. However, an agreement was reached in Abu Dhabi over the weekend with recommendations to be considered at COP28 which starts in late November in Dubai.

This week in biodiversity news – 30th October 2023

Conservation

Wildcats are thriving in a Scottish Highlands conservation project with only one death. Nineteen of the cats were released into the wild in the Cairngorms National Park in the summer. Thirteen new kittens that have been bred for the scheme will be released into the wild next summer. Wildcats are one of the rarest and most endangered mammals in the UK. They live in moorland and grassland where they feed on small mammals and ground-nesting birds. Interbreeding with the domestic cat has eroded the wildcat’s genetic diversity. They also face threats from feline disease, road collisions and fragmentation of their habitat. A concerted effort by the Saving Wildcats project which brings together the expertise and skills of a range of national and international organisations provides a glimmer of hope for the species in Scotland.

wildcat in foreground with mouth open
Wildcat by Charlie Marshall via Flickr.
Media

David Attenborough’s Planet Earth III is both horrifying and awe-inspiring, critics have said. The opening episode of the third instalment of the highly acclaimed nature documentary series was viewed by 5.6 million people and has been described as “visually stunning” and “majestic”. The latest series of Planet Earth has a notably darker mood than its predecessors, focusing on animals fighting for survival in the face of constant environmental change.

Discoveries

The mysterious death of 385 elephants in Botswana and Zimbabwe in 2020 was caused by a little-known bacterium, scientists have revealed. Elephants were found walking in circles before suddenly dying by collapsing on their faces in Botswana’s Okavango Delta and north-western Zimbabwe. Tests on the elephants have now shown that the cause was a bacterium called Pasteurella. The bacterium can result in septicaemia under certain conditions and has been linked to the sudden death of around 200,000 saiga antelopes in Kazakhstan.

Elephant on one knee in savanna habitat
Elephant by Mario Micklisch via Flickr.
Climate crisis

Increased melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is unavoidable, according to new research. Scientists ran simulations and found that even under best-case emission scenarios, melting would increase three times faster than during the 20th century. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet holds enough ice to increase global sea levels by up to five meters. Significant sea level rises will be catastrophic for the millions of people living in coastal and low-lying areas.

The Greenland Ice Sheet could experience runaway melting if climate targets are not met. A study in Nature has suggested that the ice sheet’s melting will accelerate significantly if average global temperatures surpass a threshold of 2.3 C above pre-industrial levels. However, the scientists stress that action in the future could reduce ice loss even if the threshold is crossed. They argue that it is cheaper and easier to take action now rather than clawing back towards lower global temperatures later.

ice flow in between two rocky hillsides
Ice flow in Greenland by NASA Earth Observatory via Flickr.

Atlantic hurricanes are more quickly strengthening from weak storms due to climate change. Scientists have said that human-caused climate change is creating the conditions that lead to a quick intensification of storms. Hurricanes are fueled by high ocean surface temperatures which have been increasing in recent years as the world’s oceans have absorbed over 90 percent of the excess warming from fossil fuel emissions. This presents a challenge for coastal communities as forecasting becomes more difficult the quicker a storm intensifies.

cyclone from space in the pacific ocean
Tropical cyclones in the Pacific Ocean by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr.
Policy

Countries are deadlocked over a “loss and damage” fund before COP28. The fund was agreed last year at COP27 in Egypt and is designed to help countries recover and rebuild from damage due to climate change. Developing and developed countries are at odds about which organisation should oversee the fund, which countries should pay and who will be eligible to receive funding. Developed countries back the World Bank as the host of the fund; however, developing countries argue that this would give donor countries too much influence over the fund. Talks stalled recently in Aswan, Egypt and the committee responsible for designing the fund will meet again on November 3rd and 4th before the COP28 summit begins later in the month.

£1 billion electric vehicle fund remains unallocated three years after it was first announced. The fund was first announced in March 2020 prior to the first Covid lockdown. The fund was intended to be used to support electrical capacity at service stations to allow for rapid charging of electric vehicles. While 96% of motorway services already have charging stations, increased use of electric vehicles means that there will be a demand for more charging capacity.

black electric car on the side of a street charging up its battery
Electric vehicle on charge by Paul Wilkinson via Flickr.

This week in biodiversity news – 16th October 2023

Extreme heat from climate change may make parts of the Earth uninhabitable. An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development, Purdue Institute for a Sustainable Future and Purdue University College of Sciences modelled global temperature increases from 1.5°C to 4°C – a worst-case scenario. They found that a further increase of around 1°C would mean that 2.2 billion people would experience many hours of heat that surpass human tolerance thresholds. It would be particularly concerning for residents of high-humidity areas where heatwaves would be considerably more dangerous for human health. 

Dry Cracked Warm Earth by Live Once Live Wild via Flickr

Whales and dolphins in the US are losing food and habitat to climate change, according to a new study. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that over 70% of American marine mammal species stocks are vulnerable to threats associated with warming waters. This includes shrinking food and habitat availability, changes to ocean chemistry and reduced dissolved oxygen levels. Large whales such as North Atlantic Right Whales and Humpbacks are most at risk from the effects of climate change. This comes on top of new research published in Nature Climate Change that suggests that marine heatwaves are infiltrating deeper parts of the ocean, the consequences of which could have widespread impacts on marine ecosystems. 

Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) Lunge Feeding by Gregory Smith via Flickr

Conservation 

Beavers have been reintroduced to west London for the first time in 400 years. The release of a family of five Eurasian Beavers to wetlands in Ealing comes as part of a push to improve biodiversity and mitigate the impact of climate change. There had been plans to spend money on flood prevention measures in the area but beavers were considered to be a more cost-effective natural solution. 

Canada rejects pleas from environmental groups to protect endangered owl habitat. One wild-born owl remains in British Columbia where logging has severely impacted the species’ old-growth forest habitat. The decision means that the future of the species is uncertain. The rejection of an emergency order for the protection of the owl comes after an eight-month delay since the environment ministry was required by law to recommend an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act. Environmental groups have responded with legal action following the delay. Biologists advise that the species could recover with adequate protection of old-growth forest habitat. 

Extinction Risk 

Almost half of flowering plants could be threatened by extinction, scientists have warned. Researchers analysed data from the World Checklist of Vascular Plants, the world’s most comprehensive database of plants available, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species and found that 45% may be at risk of extinction. Other key findings suggest that 77% of the 19,000 new plants and fungi species discovered since 2020 are endangered and that only 10% of an astounding 2.5 million species of fungi have been discovered. 

Flowering Plant by Choo Yut Shing via Flickr

Similar numbers of male and female sea turtles give hope for the survival of the species. Papua New Guinea’s Conflict Group’s analysis of turtle hatchings between 1960 and 2019 showed that an average of 46.2% have been female. Sea turtles are susceptible to rising temperatures due to their sex determination being temperature dependent. Scientists suggest the results are “likely rare in the global context” with sand temperatures having risen by 0.6°C over the same period. Another study of Green Sea Turtles from the same latitude showed that more than 99% of hatchlings were female, spelling decimation for the population. 

Sea Turtle by Daniel Chodusov via Flickr

Discoveries 

A small West African crocodile can moo like a cow, audio recordings reveal. Scientists use audio recordings to monitor elusive crocodile species which are difficult to confirm via visual surveys. The tiny African Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) inhabits the swampy forests of West Africa. Scientists believe that the crocodile is quite common given its common occurrence in the bushmeat trade. Consequently, they are using audio recordings to listen out for its calls and have discovered that the crocodile, surprisingly, moos like a cow. 

West African Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) by Heather Paul via Flickr

 

Animals fear the sound of a human voice more than that of a lion, according to researchers. A study in South Africa’s Kruger National Park found that, when playing recordings of human voices, 95% of animals were extremely frightened and ran away. Snarling and growling lion recordings provoked significantly less alarm among the wild mammals. The response to the recordings, which included human speech from local languages, suggests that animals have learnt that contact with humans is lethal. Researchers have noted that this may present a challenge for areas relying on wildlife tourism, as visitors can inadvertently scare away animals. 

This week in biodiversity news – 2nd October 2023

Policy

Oil-rich states should pay a climate tax, says Gordon Brown. The ex-prime minister has argued that soaring oil prices have caused an inordinate transfer of wealth to oil-rich states from the world’s poorest countries, with global oil and gas revenues soaring to a record $4 trillion. His suggestion of a $25 billion levy would be used as part of a climate fund for poorer countries who are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.

Oil rig, California by ElMelindo via Flickr
Conservation in action

Several Wildlife Trusts have launched a new Welsh-English project to restore nature and boost rural prosperity across the historic Marches region. The name of the new project “Wilder Marches” describes the unique natural and cultural landscape spanning the Welsh-English border region. The region measures approximately 100,000 hectares and includes a wide range of natural habitats including ancient woodlands, peatland, flower-rich meadows, and wood pasture. There are also areas of intensive farming and forestry in the region, and the project involving the Herefordshire, Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Shropshire Wildlife Trusts seeks to encourage regenerative farming and local sustainable food production.

Meadow by Andrew Gustar via Flickr

Hampshire County Council has secured funding to save endangered UK orchids. The council has secured £98,000 from Natural England to aid its nature recovery project aiming to boost Red- and Long-leaved Helleborines, some of the UK’s rarest orchids. The county contains the East Hampshire Hangers, known for its rare ancient woodland, which provides a habitat for the rare orchids.

Science and research

Psychologists have received funding for a three-year project to investigate meerkat responses to human emotions. The scientists at Nottingham Trent University are seeking to better understand the impact of zoo visitors on animals. The research will investigate whether meerkats demonstrate empathy by mirroring people’s emotions. They hope that the study will improve our understanding of human-animal interactions and may have implications for how zoo animals are managed.

Meerkat by Ulrika via Flickr

Carbon offset schemes in the United States may be ineffective according to new research. Researchers looking to assess farmer perspectives on soil carbon offset programmes put in place since 2017 found that farmers were largely using the schemes as “gravy on top” of what they were already doing. They largely considered payments to be too low to incentivise new adoption of practices that would increase carbon sequestration. As a result, carbon credits have largely been generated from farmers who were already motivated to improve soil and crop health with the aim of securing long-term economic sustainability.

Extinction risk

Global rhino numbers are recovering despite poaching and habitat loss. In a win for conservation, rhinoceros numbers have bounced back to 27,000, new figures show. Black Rhinos, native to east and southern Africa, and Southern White Rhinos, found in the south of Africa, have seen an uptick in their numbers since last year. The increase has been attributed to efforts by conservationists to establish new populations which have continued to grow. Javan and Sumatran Rhinos, however, appear to remain on course to go extinct with only tiny pockets remaining in southeast Asia. Experts believe there may be as few as 34 remaining in a fragmented forest landscape where finding mates is increasingly difficult.

Rhino, Caprivi, Namibia by s9-4pr

One in six species are at risk of extinction in Great Britain, according to a new report. The 203-page State of Nature report, produced by more than 60 conservation organisations, found that 16% of 10,000 amphibians, birds, insects, mammals and plants are threatened. Iconic species such as the Turtle Dove and the Hazel Dormouse are among the list. Nature conservation organisations urge more investment in nature and an increased uptake of environmentally-friendly farming practices. Studies have shown that such practices can boost both production and biodiversity, likely due to the increased presence of insects that pollinate plants. The government has highlighted its pledge to protect 30% of land for nature by 2030, but conservationists have argued that more needs to be done to reverse declines.

Climate crisis

Antarctic sea ice is at a ‘mind-blowing low’, experts have warned. The quantity of sea ice surrounding Antarctica is far below previous winter levels. The total area of ice this year measures 1.5 million square kilometres less than the September average, a reduction equivalent to five times the size of the British Isles. Polar experts have warned that such low levels of sea ice could have major global consequences. Antarctic sea ice regulates the earth’s climate by reflecting light back into the atmosphere and cooling Antarctic waters. Dark areas of the ocean exposed as sea ice melts absorb sunlight and this leads to further warming.

Antarctica by Pedro Szekely via Flickr

UK firefighters are heading to Spain for specialist training after a twofold increase in recorded wildfires last year. Once a rarity in the UK, the EU’s Copernicus earth observation system has recorded the burning of 126,618 hectares since 2006. Accordingly, UK fire services are investing in new equipment and specialist training with some firefighters being sent to Catalonia – a region with a long history of tackling blazes. With temperatures exceeding 40°C for the first time last summer, the expectation is that wildfires will continue to become both more frequent and extreme.

 

This Week in Biodiversity News – 18th September 2023

Policy and diplomacy

The House of Lords will debate mandatory Swift bricks in England. New homes may be required to build Swift bricks into new homes if the amendment is passed in parliament. The hollow bricks are unobtrusive and are relatively easy to install. The presence of these bricks in new homes would help to revive a rapidly declining Swift population and other red-listed cavity-nesting species such as House Martins and Starlings. Swift populations have declined by more than 60% since the mid-1990s.

Swift bird perching on a barbed wire in the air
Swift perching on a wire. Image by Jo Garbutt via Flickr.

The UK government is preparing to revoke the ban on new onshore windfarms, according to reports. New guidance will require action from developers on the concerns and suggestions of residents, and council approval will depend on community support. The new rules will also give local authorities more discretion over the location of new onshore projects. Since 2015, there has been a de facto ban on new onshore windfarms as only a single objection is needed to prevent construction.

African leaders demand more support and financing as the first Africa Climate Summit opens. Africa has a population of 1.3 billion people and is projected to be worst hit by the effects of the climate crisis, despite contributing relatively little to the problem. Consequently, frustration has mounted in some countries at being asked to develop in cleaner ways than richer, more polluting countries.

Leaders meeting in front of flags at a summit.
African leaders meeting at a summit. Image by Embassy of Equatorial Guinea via Flickr.
Climate crisis

Respiratory illness patients are most at risk from climate change, according to an expert report. People with conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Higher temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events will likely lead to an increase in airborne allergens, air pollution, humidity and mould. Babies and children, whose lungs are still developing, are thought to be particularly at risk.

Groundwater depletion rates could triple in India as climate warms, according to researchers. A recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan has revealed that rising temperatures have led to an increase in the withdrawal of groundwater for irrigation by farmers in India. This could result in tripled groundwater loss by 2080, posing a threat to food and water security, as well as the livelihoods of over a third of India’s population of 1.4 billion.

Tractor and farmers with a big pile of hay on a road with green vegetation around it
Indian farmers close to the city of Madurai. Image by Surajram Kumaravel via Flickr.
Science and Technology

Scientists have discovered a technique for turning plastic waste into tiny bars of soap. The researchers found that it was possible to “upcycle” plastic waste into high-value surfactants. Surfactants are a key ingredient in a range of products from lubricants to soaps and detergents. Only around 10% of plastic waste is recycled and so experts are increasingly exploring solutions for turning waste into valuable materials. The technique only produces tiny amounts of surfactant at a time, but the hope is that the process can be scaled up in the future.

Extinction Risk

St Kilda has seen a dramatic fall in seabird numbers. Since the previous census in 1999, there has been a 64% decline in seabirds on the remote archipelago west of Scotland. The National Trust for Scotland conducted the first full survey in 24 years, finding a steep decline in the numbers of Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes. Kittiwakes were found to have fallen by 84%, Razorbills and Guillemots by more than 35%. Fulmar numbers dropped by over 45,000 on the islands. The dramatic declines are thought to be due in part to climate change and reductions of natural prey.

Guillemots sitting on the ledge of a cliff
Guillemots at Blackers Hole, Dorset. Image by Donald Macauley via Flickr.
Conservation

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest continues to decline according to Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE). This marks the fifth consecutive month of decrease in deforestation in the region. The INPE’s deforestation alert system DETER showed that there was a 66% decline in forest clearing compared to the same month last year. The system has likewise shown a 43% decline in deforestation in the first eight months of 2023 when compared to the previous year. This follows commitments by Brazil’s president Lula da Silva to curtail the enormous forest losses seen over the past four years under the previous administration.


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See our previous biodiversity news stories covering topics from bee-killing hornets to an flooding-earthquake disaster in California.