Author interview: Benedict Macdonald

Did you know that 94% of Britain isn’t built upon, that Snowdonia is larger and emptier than the Maasai Mara National Reserve, or that Scotland’s deer estates alone cover an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park?  Britain has all the empty space it needs for an epic wildlife recovery.  So what’s stopping it from happening in our country – and how can we turn things around? 

Rebirding: Rewilding Britain and its Birds is a bold roadmap to reverse the decline of bird populations in Britain, suggesting we need to restore ecosystems, rather than modify farmland.

Author, Benedict Macdonald offered his valuable time to answer our questions about his important new contribution to the discussion of rewilding.

Rebirding Author: Benedict McDonald

What inspired you to become so passionate about restoring natural ecosystems?

In 2014, I began writing Rebirding in the certain knowledge that conservation in this country is failing, the birdsong around us is dying out every year, yet we have all the resources, skill and wildlife lobby to turn things around. I hope that in its small way, Rebirding will do for the UK what Sir David Attenborough’s Our Planet is beginning to do for worldwide conservation – to make people realise that nature is essential, profitable and saveable, even now – and that we have all the resources and skill to do so.

Tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in the natural world?

I never remember the moment of first being fascinated by nature, but I do remember that by the time I was five, I would make weekend visits to Berkeley Castle Butterfly Farm and was entranced by watching the butterflies drinking salts from my fingertips, and I began a collection of ones passed to me by the lady running it – after they had died.  Then early trips to the Welsh coast, and Norfolk, transformed that interest into a lifelong love of birds as well.  From there, their plight has drawn me into understanding and studying ecosystems and a far wider understanding of protecting nature.  Since then, my love of the natural world, both as a naturalist and a TV director, has now taken me to over forty countries.

At 14, I first remember telling someone at a dinner party that I wanted to work in wildlife television. Since graduating from university, I’ve been lucky to work on a range of programmes such as Springwatch, The One Show and The Hunt for the BBC.  Last week, aged 31, I attended the premiere of Sir David Attenborough’s Our Planet for Netflix, launching in the Natural History Museum in London. This is the largest conservation series ever made. I work as the researcher and a field director for the Jungles and Grasslands episodes, directing a number of sequences including desert-nesting Socotra cormorants, the secret life of the Alcon Blue butterfly, and the remarkable lives of the world’s only tool-using Orangutans.

In your opinion, what is the most detrimental practice to the wildlife of Britain?

We are often sold the untruth that what happens to British land is necessary for food production. This is almost entirely untrue.  Only the profitable arable farms of the south, and east of our island, provide a bounty of food for our children.  Dairy lawns and sheep farms in fact create tiny volumes of our daily diet relative to the land area they use. For example, 88% of Wales grows lamb, an optional food resource. 

Of the epic wastage, however, the grouse moor is the ultimate. Eight percent of Britain’s land is burned for the creation of 0.0008% of its jobs and a contribution of just 0.005% to our GDP.  For hundreds of years, thousands of beautiful wild animals have been removed, just so that Red Grouse can be turned into living clay pigeons and killed in their thousands once a year.  Even hunters from other countries find this wasteful and disgusting.  This area covers an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park – blocking jobs and wildlife alike on an epic scale. Hunting estates in Finland or Sweden, by contrast, juggle the ambition of hunters to shoot a few animals with ecosystems of immense beauty and variety.

Wildlife and commerce are often presented as being in conflict, do you think this is a fair assessment, or can land stewardship that favours biodiversity over profit be of economic benefit?

This is surely the greatest imaginary conflict of our time, successful insinuated, perhaps, by the damaging economies that prevent nature from reaching its full economic potential in our country.  In truth, wildlife IS commerce.  Nature IS money. 

Every year, even without a single charismatic megafauna such as Bison, Elk or Lynx running wild in our country, without a ‘Yellowstone’ or ‘Maasai Mara’, the English adult population make just over 3 billion visits to the natural environment each year, spending £21 billion as they do so. In Scotland, nature-based tourism is estimated to produce £1.4 billion per year, along with 39,000 FTE jobs. 

In contrast, the current models of upland farming demand money from us to survive, but they do not reciprocate jobs, income or natural capital – this is life on benefits and there is no future for young people in it.  In contrast, wherever nature is allowed to flourish, it’s capital potential is wondrous.  In 2009, the RSPB’s lovely but very small reserves brought £66 million to local economies, and created 1,872 FTE jobs. This is more than all of England’s grouse moors, but in just a fraction of their land area.

Right now, however, we are just seeing snapshots of how nature can power and rekindle communities. In Rebirding we often look to other countries to see how true ecosystems could transform economies on a far greater scale.   The final myth that we kick into touch is that Britain is short of space, 94% of our country is not built upon. Most of this area does not create essential food supplies – and is jobs-poor.

Is there one single practise or cultural shift that would be of most benefit to restoring natural ecosystems?

The Forestry Commission is the largest single land manager in Britain.  It now needs to split its forests in two – rewilding key estates like the New Forest and the Forest of Dean: cutting down the spruce and replanting with native trees, then, crucially, leaving large native animals such as Beavers, Elk, cattle and horses to become the foresters.  Economies in these forests would be driven through ecotourism revenues and perhaps some hunting.  Elsewhere, timber forests would remain.  It is hard to think of one single decision that could effect a greater transformation on British land than a decision to return Britain’s once world-class oak-lands to our nation.  Another, however, would be if Scotland’s deer estates, which again cover an area twice the size of Yellowstone, could be incentivised to rewild and regrow their trees.  Hunting could remain – but in this regrowing wilderness would be the potential for Elk, Lynx, Wildcats and a huge expansion in woodland species like Capercaillie. 

Are you optimistic for the future of Britain’s wildlife?

Yes – but only if our conservationists act with the same pragmatism and determination as those who have prevented land reform for decades.  In my closing chapter, I’ve argued that whilst farming unions behave with absolute conviction and coherence, our nature charities often simply say that a few more Skylarks would be nice.  Only if we can unlock the economic arguments of nature, and harness the millions of voices effectively, will we see large areas rewilded in our country.  It is the social and economic transformation that nature provides that needs to be realised – but for that, you need space, and power over land.  At that moment, things will change. In my lifetime, I genuinely believe that after many fierce battles, we will see Dalmatian Pelicans flying over Somerset, and huge areas of Scotland, Wales and upland England slowly returned to a wilder state.  But without absolute conviction this is possible, it will never come to pass.

Benedict Macdonald’s book is out now as part of our Spring Promotion

To discover further reading on the past, present and future of the British countryside, browse our collection.

Supporting Conservation: National Museum of Brazil

On 2nd September last year, a terrible fire destroyed the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Alongside the vast collection of irreplaceable natural history specimens, the fire also destroyed books and equipment used by the Museum’s researchers for ecological research and wildlife conservation.

Thankfully as museum curator, Débora Pires, wrote shortly after the incident: “The brains did not burn; we are working with a positive agenda!”

A selection of books kindly donated

NHBS were approached by our former director Alan Martin, who provided a list of products which the malacology, arachnology, entomology and lepidoptera departments needed to get back on their feet. Alan, now secretary of the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest Trust (BART) has close links with many researchers at the museum.

Following this, we decided to coordinate an effort to provide the items that are most critical to their research. We contacted suppliers asking them to contribute and we agreed to supply our own manufactured products, and cover shipping costs of all donated items.

The response from suppliers was fantastic, as the majority were happy to donate all, or most of the items requested. We would like to give huge thanks those who have donated so far: Elsevier, BIOTOPE Parthenope, Brunel Microscopes Ltd, BugDorm, CABI Publishing, Harvard University Press, the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Watkins & Doncaster and finally EntoSphinx. So far, we have received just over £2,000 worth of items, with more to follow.

A selection of items that are being sent in the first shipment.

“I’m really sorry to hear such devastating news. This is truly awful and it’s good to see you are providing such great support to them. We would be happy to send out the [requested] book gratis.” – Linda Jackson, Elsevier

Are you a supplier, publisher or manufacturer and would like to donate books or equipment to this worthy cause? Please contact ruddin@nhbs.com

Visit our Supporting Conservation page for more ways NHBS help wildlife, ecology and conservation across the world.

NHBS Guide to Bat Survey Equipment

Common Pipistrelle by Meneer Zjeroen on Flickr

With Spring around the corner and the bat survey season fast approaching, it is a great time to make sure you have everything ready for the busy months ahead. Over the winter we have been busy reviewing our current products, cataloging new products and even designing our own products. Here, we have picked out some exciting new products as well as some old favourites to take a look at.

The NHBS Harp Trap – Coming Soon!

Over the last few months, the NHBS manufacturing team have been working hard on developing the NHBS Harp Trap. We are currently in the process of testing and trialing our harp trap ready for its release in the coming months. Designed and built on-site at our workshop in Totnes, our three-bank harp trap will feature some innovative designs such as a winding line carrier and anti-tangling system that makes assembly and disassembly, easy and efficient. Made mostly from aluminium, the trap is surprisingly lightweight at just 15kg, whilst remaining sturdy and durable during use. The harp trap is 190cm long and has a catch area of about 4m². The catch bag is approximately 60cm deep and its entrance is about 39cm wide. When collapsed, the catch bag wraps around the disassembled frame and is held tightly with Velcro straps so that it can be neatly stored and carried in its bag. Initial feedback on its design and function has been very positive and we are excited to develop our design based upon suggestions from professional bat workers. Our standard trap will be a three bank, but if you would like a bespoke two or four bank trap, please contact us so that we can discuss your requirements.

BTHK Tree-Roost Net

Based on the design by Henry Andrews from the Bat Tree Habitat Key (BTHK) project, the BTHK Tree-Roost net is uniquely designed for trapping bats as they emerge from tree roost sites. The net is set up against a roost site prior to dusk so that it will catch any bats that emerge, keeping them safely in the bag ready for identification, measuring and ringing. The diamond shape of the net head can pivot and collapse inwards to ensure that the net fits flush against any tree, making it safer for bats and easier for surveyors. The net bag is made from fine woven nylon mesh that is soft and will not damage the delicate wings or feet of bats. The net bag can be easily removed for cleaning and features a clear plastic rim that fits around the collar and prevents bats from climbing up and out of the net when it is in place. The length of the handle is 4 meters (breaks down into 3 sections for ease of transport) and the depth of the bag is 1 metre. You may also be interested in the book Bat Roosts in Trees which is a guide to finding tree roosts.

Anabat Scout – Coming Soon!

The Anabat Scout is the latest bat detector by Titley Scientific. Due for release this March, the Scout is designed with UK and European bat biologists in mind and is tailored for active bat surveying. It can record both full spectrum and zero crossing files and stores them on a SD card with every file geo-tagged. The Scout has heterodyne, auto-heterodyne and frequency division audio that can be played through earphones or its own built-in speaker. The in/out bat counter is ideal for emergence surveys and will automatically timestamp and geo-tag every count. The small OLED screen displays crucial information without being too bright or distracting and the Anabat Scout will be compatible with Anabat’s free Anabat Insight software for viewing and analysing your data. Easy to use and versatile, this new detector is set to become popular with bat ecologists who are looking for an active survey detector.

Elekon Batlogger M

The Elekon Batlogger M is great for active surveying and full spectrum recording. The weatherproof FG Knowles microphone has a range of 10–150kHz and can record in 16-bit full spectrum. The Batlogger M also logs the GPS coordinates (via an integrated GPS receiver), and environmental temperature at the time of recording. Different recording settings (scheduled, permanent, or triggered), and different trigger thresholds (for call identification) can be set up and the device comes with its own powerful but user-friendly call analysis software package

Echo Meter Touch 2 Pro

The Echo Meter Touch 2 lets you record, listen to, and identify bat calls in real-time on your iOS or Android device. All you need is your Android or Apple device (see the nhbs.com website for compatible models), your Echo Meter Touch 2 Pro, and the Echo Meter Touch App which is a free download from the iTunes Store or Google Play Store. When plugged in, the Echo Meter Touch 2 enables you to listen to bats in real time, view live sonograms in full colour, record onto your device and identify calls to species level in seconds. If your device has GPS functionality, the Echo Meter Touch will also log the recording location and path of the recording session. There are two versions available in both an iOS version and Android version. Both versions allow you to listen to calls in real time expansion and heterodyne and you can playback in real time expansion, heterodyne or time expansion modes. The trigger sensitivity and sample rate are adjustable and three gain settings allowing users to optimise their detector to their target bat species and ambient conditions.

SM4BAT FS

The SM4BAT FS is a full spectrum detector for passive surveying use. Robust and weatherproof, it will record 16-bit full spectrum calls and can store up to 512GB of data. A versatile scheduling function allows you to set when you want to record and the battery can last up to 450 hours. The SM4BAT FS is easy to fit to a tree or post and is compatible with a variety of accessories such as GPS unit and microphone extension cables. The SMM-U2 ultrasonic microphone is available with the SM4BAT FS and is a highly sensitive microphone that produces high quality, low noise bat recordings over long distances. Easy to set up and producing detailed call recordings for analysis, the SM4BAT FS is ideal for unattended use in the field.

Anabat Swift

The Anabat Swift from Titley Scientific is based on the excellent design of the Anabat Express, but has the advantage of recording in full-spectrum, as well as zero crossing. Users can choose between sample rates of 320 or 500kHz and data is saved onto an SD card. Two SD card slots are available, allowing you to save more bat calls without changing cards. The Swift also has a built-in GPS receiver that automatically sets the clock, calculates sunset and sunrise times and records the location of the device. It will also record automatically from sunrise to sunset every night (based on GPS coordinates) as one of the automatic recording settings.

BatLure

The BatLure can be used as a lure to improve catch rates of bats for survey or research, to attract bats to new artificial roosts such as bat boxes or constructed hibernacula, with bat detectors at training events or prior to bat walks and for calibration of bat detectors. The Batlure can playback sounds with frequencies of up to 100kHz and is capable of playing both real time and time expanded recordings of bat vocalisations. It is very compact and robust and has a tripod attachment mount, making it easy to set-up in your desired location. It plays sounds from an SD card which is supplied complete with several pre-loaded recordings. Users can also add their own recordings onto the card.

Ecotone Ultra Thin Series M mist net for bats

The Ecotone Ultra Thin Series M is ideal for catching bats and is available in 2 mesh sizes. Both are made from nylon (0.8mm monofilament) and have 4 shelves. Available in lengths from 3m to 21m, you can pick the mesh size and length that best suits your survey and situation.

 

Explorer Premium Digital Endoscope Camera

The Explorer Premium Digital Endoscope is lightweight and easy to operate. It can record still images or video on to a microSD / microSDHC card (not included). The screen can be detached whilst the camera is in operation and viewed up to 10m away. The camera head has a diameter of 9mm and the cable is 91cm long, giving easy access to nest boxes, burrows, nests, crevices etc. Lighting levels can be adjusted to minimise disturbance to animals.

Accessories

Below are some accessories that may come in use when surveying bats:

Petzl Actik Headtorch
£39.95

Stainless Steel Hand-Held Counter
£7.50

Animal Handling Gloves
£5.69 5.99

dialMax Vernier Dial Caliper
£29.99

ETI Hygro-Thermo Pocket Sized Hygrometer
£21.95 26.99

Small Mammal Holding Bag
£3.60

Telescopic Inspection Mirror
£14.99 16.99

High Flier Mist Net Support System (for Bats)
 from £695.00

Further Reading

Below are some books that may come in use when surveying bats:

Bat Roosts in Trees£39.99
British Bat Calls £18.99
Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists£29.99
The Bat Worker’s Manual£17.99

A note on licensing

Please note that in the UK, all bats and their resting or breeding places are protected by law. Any bat survey work must be undertaken by a licensed bat ecologist and when purchasing certain products, we ask you to confirm your lisence or give an appropriate reference. For more information, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/bat-licences.

NHBS Guide to newt survey equipment

 

Great Crested Newt. Image  by Lottie

Great Crested Newts are the UK’s most strictly protected amphibian, requiring licensed ecological surveys if a development may affect them. As the first signs of spring emerge, ecologists are preparing for the start of this year’s newt survey season. Below, we have compiled a list of the most common newt survey methods and the equipment needed for each, so that you can ensure you have everything you need as the survey season approaches.

Netting

Netting for adult and larval newts can be a useful tool in both survey and relocation. Here at NHBS, we have designed an amphibian net specifically for the safe and efficient capture of newts. The net bag is attached by a wide velcro collar which prevents newts from becoming caught between the frame and the bag. The bag can also be removed from the frame to be disinfected between sites. The seams have been carefully placed so that they do not come into contact with the front edge of the net, and the material of the bag is a soft 2mm mesh. The net head is 300mm wide and comes with a sturdy, wooden 1.2m handle. We also sell a diamond-shaped amphibian net that comes in either standard depth or deep. Its shape is ideal for easy and safe capture for amphibians and is also available in a collapsible frame for easy transport between sites.

eDNA

The presence of Great Crested Newts can be determined by analysing pond water samples for newt DNA. This process is known as eDNA sampling and is a recent but very effective way of newt surveying that causes very little disturbance to the newts themselves. Provided that the sampling and analysis protocol complies with DEFRA guidance and that samples are collected between 15th April and 30th June, then eDNA test results are accepted by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales. This year, NHBS has once again teamed up with eDNA laboratory, Nature Metrics to deliver a complete Great Crested Newt eDNA analysis service. Combining our expertise in sourcing, packing and shipping equipment with the excellent laboratory proficiency of Nature Metrics, this partnership facilitates a fast and efficient service. If you would like to find out more about the eDNA services that Nature Metrics provide, please visit www.naturemetrics.co.uk

Dewsbury Trapping

The Dewsbury trap is an innovative design of newt refuge trap that is exclusive to NHBS. The clever design of this trap ensures that any trapped newts have access to both fresh air at the top of the trap and a thermally stable refuge at the bottom of the pond. They can be easily deployed from the edge of the pond meaning that not only is this trap safer for newts, but it is also safer and more convenient for surveyors too. In preliminary trials the Dewsbury trap was found to be more effective at catching newts than traditional bottle trapping methods and can be left unattended for up to 24 hours meaning night visits are not necessarily required.

Please note: we recommend that you contact your national licensing authority (Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, etc) before you purchase this trap. The Dewsbury Newt Trap is not included within either the Level 1 or Level 2 Natural England Class Survey Licence and a separate licence is required

Bottle Trapping

Bottle trapping is a popular method of surveying for both detecting and assessing populations. It can, however, become quite labour intensive, especially if you are looking to cut bottles into traps yourself. To save yourself some valuable time, we sell pre-cut bottle traps with the head inverted and ready to deploy. These can be bought in packs of 40 or 120 and are cut from 2l PET bottles with a 28mm neck diameter. Alternatively, we sell the whole bottles if you would rather cut the traps yourself.

Torching

Torching is a less invasive and effective method of counting/observing newts without the need for capturing them. Torches are recommended to be between 500,000 and one million candlepower and need to ideally last several hours at a time. The Cluson CB2 range is very popular among ecologists and provides 1 million candlepower with long lasting battery life and an easy-to-use pistol type grip. For a more lightweight and economical option, the LED Lenser is a powerful torch that offers up to 450 lumens and a sharply focused circular beam that can last up to 300 hours on a low power setting.

 

Drift Fencing

Fencing can either be used to temporarily exclude or contain newts in mitigation projects. It can also be used to aid the capture of newts for relocation and is typically a short barrier with the base buried underground. Our Tristar Newt Fencing comes in rolls of 100m, is made of UV stabilised polythene sheeting and tinted green. It is designed to resist weather damage and has a life expectancy of 5 years, making it ideal for temporary mitigation projects during development works. It is easy and simple to put up and can be fixed into place with our soft wood stakes.

Pitfall Traps

Often, pitfall traps are used alongside drift fencing in order to trap and translocate newts in relocation projects. They consist of a container that is buried underground often flush with the edge of drift fencing. Both square buckets and round buckets have been shown to be effective and we supply several options depending on your preferences.

Accessories

Below are some accessories that may come in use when surveying Great Crested Newts: 

 

Light & Dry Micro First Aid Kit
£15.95 16.99

Bamboo Canes
From £13.00 for 100

dialMax Vernier Dial Caliper
£29.99 45.00

Snowbee Granite PVC Thigh Waders
£40 (various sizes)

Snowbee Lightweight Neoprene Gloves
£12.95 (various sizes)

Replacement Amphibian Net Bag
£26.99

Broad Spectrum Disinfectant Tablets
£19.99

Breaksafe Thermometer
£7.50

A note on licensing

Please note that Great Crested Newts and its habitat are protected by law. Any Great Crested Newt survey work must be undertaken by a licensed ecologist. Different levels of license are required for different survey and mitigation methods. For more information, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/great-crested-newt-licences#great-crested-newt-survey-and-research-licences

NHBS Guide to small mammal survey equipment

Small mammals are common and widespread across many of our terrestrial ecosystems. They play a crucial role in ecosystem food-webs as key prey species for many carnivores and are also useful as indicator species for agricultural change and development. Consequently, surveys of small mammal populations can be a useful tool for ecologists, researchers, and conservationists alike.

Small mammals are most commonly monitored through the use of live traps. These allow a range of species to be monitored simultaneously and also allow biometric data such as weight and sex to be collected. In addition, estimates of population size and structure can be calculated using capture-mark-recapture (CMR) techniques. However, other more passive monitoring techniques such as dormouse nest tubes, hair tube, and footprint tunnels are also available. Below we will take a look at some of the most popular small mammal survey equipment.

Longworth Traps

Longworth traps have been widely used in the UK for many years. They are made from lightweight yet durable aluminium and have been consistently well documented in scientific literature and ecological reports.

The trap consists of two parts: a tunnel which contains the door tripping mechanism, and a nest box, which is attached to the back of the tunnel. The nest box provides a large space for food and bedding material to ensure that the trapped animal is comfortable until release. The sensitivity of the trigger mechanism can be adjusted depending on the target species, although Pygmy shrews have been known to be too light to trigger the mechanism. The door can be locked open for pre-baiting for ease of use.

The Longworth trap comes as two options: with a shrew hole or without a shrew hole (Please note that shrews are a protected species so ensure you are aware of the relevant laws in the country in which you are trapping).

Sherman Traps

Sherman Trap

Sherman traps are another popular live-trap which can be folded flat for ease of transport and storage. They work by a trigger platform which causes the entrance door to shut when an animal runs into the trap. Sherman traps are formed of one compartment and because of this, it can be difficult to add food/bedding into the trap without interfering with the trigger platform. The traps may also distort over time with repeated folding. Sherman traps come in a variety of sizes and lengths so that you can find a trap to best suit your target species and can be purchased as either an aluminium or galvanised version which is more resistant to rusting.

NHBS Water Vole Trap

If you are looking to trap and survey water voles, we offer a water vole trap which comprises an extra large (XLK) Sherman trap with its rear door removed and an attached nesting compartment. This trap is suitable for water vole survey, such as capture, mark, recapture studies, as well as water vole relocation projects.

 

Footprint Tunnel

Footprint tunnels are a less invasive method of surveying small mammals. Species presence/absence can be determined by examining the footprints made by mammals that have walked over an ink pad to reach the bait left in the tunnel. This method is especially useful for determining the presence of hedgehogs that are not otherwise easily ‘trapped’. The tunnel comes with a UK mammal footprint identification sheet; however it may be difficult to distinguish between some species of smaller mammals.

Squirrel Hair Traps

Squirrel hair traps are another non-invasive survey method that is designed for red squirrel survey. When squirrels pass through the baited trap, their hair is collected on sticky tabs within the tube. These hairs can then be analysed to determine whether red squirrels are present in the area.

 

Dormouse Tubes

Dormouse nest tubes are a cheap, easy and very popular method of determining the presence of dormice within a habitat. The tubes consist of a wooden tray and a nesting tube. Dormice make nests in the tubes and it is these that are used as indicators of their presence in the habitat. Dormice are legally protected in the UK and must not be handled unless you have a licence to do so. Nest tubes can be set up and checked without a licence until the first evidence of dormouse activity is found. After that, only a licensed handler can check them.

Accessories, guides and books

Below are some accessories, guides and books that are commonly used for mammal survey and monitoring:

 

Small Mammal Holding Bag
£2.50

Pesola Light-Line Spring Scales
From £35.00

Pesola PTS3000 Electronic Scale
£126.00

Heavy Duty Extra-Large Polythene Sample Bags
£0.70 per bag

Animal Handling Gloves
£5.69 5.99

Marking Flags
£2.50 for 10

Britain’s Mammals
£13.99 17.99

The Analysis of Owl Pellets
£4.99

Britain’s Mammals 2018
£17.99

A Guide to British Mammal Tracks and Signs
£4.50

A note on licensing

Please note that some small mammal species are protected by law (e.g. shrews and dormice in the UK) and you must obtain a license from Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Natural Resources Wales if you set traps with the intention of trapping any species of shrew. Please ensure you are aware of and meet the requirements of any relevant laws in the country in which you are trapping. Please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/survey-or-research-licence-for-protected-species for more information.

NHBS Field Sessions: Waterway Surveys for Daubenton’s Bats

NHBS’ staff members are wild about wildlife! To showcase this, we are encouraging our team to write blogs about their experiences with nature.

During the Summer months, Jon Flynn, a member of NHBS’ Wildlife Equipment Team attended a number of Waterway Surveys for Daubenton’s bats (Myotis daubentonii). Read more about his survey experiences below:

Stretch of the River Teign captured by Westcountry Rivers Trust via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Stretch of the River Teign captured by Westcountry Rivers Trust via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“On Monday 6th July I took part in a Waterway Survey for Daubenton’s bat along a stretch of the River Teign in Devon. The survey is completed twice per year in conjunction with the Bat Conservation Trust and is part of an ongoing data collection programme for bat species around the UK. The lead for this particular survey was John Mitchell who has been surveying this particular length of the Teign, near Teigngrace, for a good number of years. It was my third survey there.

The survey was due to start 40 minutes after sunset, so we met at 9.00pm and made our way along the edge of a maize field to arrive at our first stopping point. This was to be a transect survey which meant walking a length of the river bank and stopping at ten predetermined points to record bat activity at each one. We stood at the river’s edge and immediately noticed that the river level was a lot lower than it was during our last visit a year or so ago. We recorded air temperature and cloud cover and, as we prepared, various species of bats could already be seen zooming around the trees and openings as they commenced another night of nocturnal foraging. The air was very warm, still and humid, and flying insects were everywhere including a host of moths and some less welcome biting species.

As the light faded it was time to start. With bat detectors switched on and earphones in place, we directed a torch beam on the river’s surface and awaited the arrival of the first Daubenton’s.

Looking for bats at twilight by Nic McPhee via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Looking for bats at twilight by Nic McPhee via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

The Daubenton’s bat is a species which typically occupies riparian woodland.  They often roost in trees along the river bank and hunt by skimming low over the surface of the water for insects. They can take prey from the water’s surface using their feet or tail membrane.

As bats skimmed through the torch beam we were able to count them. We counted the number of passes that we observed and for this a clicker counter is always useful! The bats that we heard but did not see were also recorded as additional information. I set my Magenta 5 at 50hz and listened whilst John relied on his trusty and more accomplished Bat Box Duet.

After four minutes on the stopwatch we finished counting, compared counts and wrote down results. At stop number 1 there were certainly bats present, but they were swooping around quite high above the water surface and not showing the typical behaviour of Daubenton’s – John was dubious that they were our target species so we recorded them only as potential sightings.

Using GPS devices and torches we left for Survey Point 2 further down the river bank and repeated the same process as before. At this location there was no denying that these WERE Daubenton’s bats, as the torch beam caught their pale almost white ventral fur, confirming their identity. Our detectors were full of noise too, including the typical intense zap as a bat homed in on prey.

A close-up of a Daubenton's bat. Image captured by Gilles San Martin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
A close-up of a Daubenton’s bat. Image captured by Gilles San Martin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

On we progressed with eight more stopping points to go. Occasionally our river bank scrambles took us through thickets of invasive Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glanduliferaand Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) a sobering reminder of how our countryside is changing. The night remained still and warm and it almost felt like we were in a different country.

After eight more stops my watch said 11:20pm. It was good to see that bats were in profusion that night, as John stated ‘It was one of the best ever totals, with one stopping point recording over 50 passes!‘.

Two weeks later and we repeated the process. But this second night felt noticeably cooler and there were fewer insects on the wing. Nevertheless bats were still out and about in reasonable numbers and an average score was calculated between the two Waterway surveys.  Overall there were encouraging signs that the Daubenton’s bat continues to do well along this particular stretch of the Teign.”

To find out more information about the various bat detectors available, go to our website. To find out more about how you can help bats in your local area, have a look at our handy guide.

If you like the idea of taking part in Waterway Surveys (or other kinds of bat surveys) then contact the Bat Conservation Trust or have a look at their website here. It’s great fun and you can put your bat detector to important use!

The Marine Biological Association’s 10th Annual Bioblitz

On the weekend of the 13th – 14th July, a small team of staff from NHBS attended the Marine Biological Association’s 10th Annual Bioblitz which took place at Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo on the Devon coast.

View of Newton Ferrers from Noss Mayo Harbour. Image by Oli Haines.

This stunning area, which features a tidal estuary with its many associated creeks, secluded beaches, cliffs and woodland, has long been celebrated as an area of beauty and natural diversity and is designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB). In recognition of the area’s diverse and high-quality habitats, the Yealm estuary is also a Special Area of Conservation, all of the intertidal mudflats and the woodland around the coastal path are classed as Priority Habitat and a proportion of the region has also been selected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

This year’s Bioblitz featured a huge range and variety of activities for children and adults of all ages; including whale and dolphin watching, reptile, butterfly, bug and fish surveys, stream dipping, nocturnal walks looking for bats, owls and glow worms, moth trapping and much more.

Keep reading for accounts from NHBS team members Kat, Soma and Bryony about the activities that they enjoyed over the weekend.

Editorial Assistant Kat Clayton took part in a crabbing competition on Friday evening:

“As the sun began to lower it was time for the crabbing competition. Conveniently situated on a pier by The Ship Inn at Noss Creek, this event sure was popular with the locals! The aim of the game was to catch the biggest crab and, along the way, survey the population of the Green Shore Crab (Carcinus maenas) around the pier. Children were wet-suited up and were not afraid of swimming off with their bait to find the best spot. After depositing their bait, they quickly swam back to the pier to reel in their catch. A twist on the mark-capture-release method was used, where the marking consisted of a dab of lipstick on the carapace of an unsuspecting crab. Bacon was flung as bait, children were dripping on the recording sheets and lipstick found itself on most peoples’ fingers and t-shirts. This organised chaos was much loved by all and I’m sure it will become a regular annual event. As this was a BioBlitz however, other species were recorded too, such as the sea slater (Ligia oceanica). Secretly, we were all hoping to see the crab parasitic barnacle Sacculina – which this year remained elusive”.

As well as the popular woodland walk, the list of activities included a dusk bird and bat walk. Image by Oli Haines.

Marketing Coordinator Soma Mitra-Chubb went along to the Bioblitz on Sunday with her children to take part in the Ancient Woodland walk:

“On Sunday, we joined in an Ancient Woodland walk. Ancient woodlands are those which have existed since the early 1600s and are the UK’s richest land-based habitat for wildlife. Our aim was to spot as many different types of trees and plants as possible, so off we went armed with our recording sheets.

Our walk took us through the beautiful Newton Woods running alongside the river Yealm. Fiona, our guide, set the younger children (and some adults) the task of collecting as many different leaves as possible which were gathered in a pile. We spotted leaves from cedar, ash, pine, oak, and a host of smaller plants including a nettle which was collected by one brave child. (There were, alas, no dock leaves to be found, triggering a discussion on why, in nature, you often find both poison and antidote growing next to each other). Some unusual finds included wild strawberries, and a herb named Robert.

It was a delightful walk, helped by the brilliant weather and congenial company. Unfortunately, as the walk overran, we were forced to turn back at the halfway point. We will be returning to Newton Woods to complete the walk at a later date!”

Bryony stands ready to help at the NHBS stall. Image by Oli Haines.

Wildlife Equipment Specialist Bryony attended the Bioblitz, both to take part in the activities and to provide a friendly face behind the NHBS stand, which offered a great range of wildlife survey equipment and identification guides for sale at the event:

“The MBA’s BioBlitz was a fantastic event to be a part of! It aimed to encourage more people to get involved in nature conservation and raise awareness of the abundance of wildlife on their doorstep.

Children, ecologists, naturalists and enthusiasts all got involved, no matter the age or the background. Activities were constantly on the go, wellies marched onwards to location after location on the search for more species; buckets, field guides and nets in hand. Marine, land-based, air-borne and tidal were all explored and examined.

Having the NHBS stall at such an active event was brilliant as we were able to provide inspiration to children, ecologists and families. We sold all manner of items enabling everyone to get closer to nature and to experience it first-hand. Our Educational Rock Pooling Kits and Pond Dipping Kits were a great success, along with bug magnification pots and pooters. Ecologists loved the new books that we had, aiding identification of all manners of sponges, seaweeds and lichens.

We were also able to answer questions, show children how to use the equipment and partake in the activities ourselves.”

The Bioblitz Research Hub. Image by Oli Haines.

Photos and highlights from the BioBlitz will be showcased in a celebration of the diversity of life along the Yealm at an event in the WI Hall in Newton Ferrers on Saturday 13th October. Everyone is welcome to drop in between 11am-4pm, with tea and cake being served.

The Bioblitz was organised by the Marine Biological Association and was supported by the Royal Society of Biology, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Yealm Waterside Homes.

Improbable Destinies: An interview with Jonathan B. Losos

Jonathan B. Losos with his favourite research subject: the green anole

Jonathan B. Losos is an evolutionary biologist, currently at Harvard University. He is best known for his research on speciation in Caribbean anoles, a genus of iguanian lizards. Previously, he has authored Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree: Ecology and Adaptive Radiation of Anoles. His latest book, Improbable Destinies: How Predictable is Evolution?  is an incredibly enjoyable romp through evolutionary biology, examining the phenomenon of convergent evolution (i.e. the process by which different organisms have evolved the same or similar traits independently over time), and asks the question: how repeatable is evolution really? After reading this book recently (see also the review I left for the book) I contacted Jonathan to talk some more convergent evolution with him.

1. As a biologist, I can understand your fascination with convergent evolution. But to introduce yourself to the readers, what drew you to study this one topic out of all the fascinating aspects of evolution? Was this interest there from the beginning, or did you chance on it as your research progressed?

I’ve been interested in convergence ever since I learned about evolution because convergence of species living in similar environments is such a great demonstration of the power of natural selection. However, when I conducted my doctoral work on Caribbean Anolis lizards, I truly became fascinated by the phenomenon.

2. In your preface, you write how your PhD project on lizard diversification in the Caribbean supported ideas on convergent evolution. Right after writing up your thesis, Gould published his book Wonderful Life, in which he stressed the importance of contingency, arguing that evolution is unpredictable. You write you were taken with his book. How did you go about reconciling Gould’s views with your own?

Evolutionary biology is unlike most sciences in that it is a historical science. We can’t just do a key experiment or derive an equation and solve the problem. Rather, like detectives, we have to build the best case to understand what happened in the past. In addition, as Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park, life finds a way. In fact, evolution occurs in myriad different ways – almost any way of evolving you can imagine has occurred somewhere, some time. In this way, evolution is an inductive sciencewe can’t derive general rules for first principles; rather, we have to go out in nature and develop many case studies. Only in that way can we recognize the general patterns from the interesting exceptions.

It is in this light that I reconciled my one research on Anolis lizards, which indicated that evolution has travelled very much the same course four times on the different islands of the Greater Antilles (the large islands of the Caribbean), with Gould’s ideas that evolution, for the most part, is unpredictable and unrepeatable. I considered the Anolis situation to be one of the exceptions, fascinating, but out of the ordinary.

3. Part two of your book describes a plethora of field studies, including your own work on Anolis lizards, which by and large show that evolution is repeatable. Some people, botanists especially, have raised the objection that such findings could also come about by phenotypic plasticity. You have addressed this objection yourself experimentally and found that phenotypic plasticity only plays a limited role. Have others done the same, and is this something that is routinely considered and excluded as a possible explanation in this kind of research?

Phenotypic plasticity – the ability of genetically identical individuals to produce different phenotypes when exposed to different environmental conditions – has long been known. However, until recently, it was mostly considered to be noise in the system, non-adaptive phenomena that mostly served to prevent natural selection from producing evolutionary change (the reason being that natural selection might favor one variant, but if different variants in a species were genetically identical, then selection wouldn’t lead to any evolutionary change). However, in recent years we have realized that plasticity may be an important part of the evolutionary process. Although phenotypic variation (i.e., variation in traits such as anatomy, physiology) among individuals in a population may not be genetically based, the ability of a species to produce different phenotypes in different conditions is itself a genetically based trait that may evolve adaptively. Thus, species may evolve to exhibit great phenotypic variation as a response to living in many different environments. As a result, the amount of research on phenotypic plasticity has skyrocketed in the last two decades.

Improbable Destinies

4. Towards the end of Part Two, you point out another weak point of most field experiments. They generally start off with genetically related populations and so are likely to be predisposed to generate parallel evolutionary responses. Furthermore, statistical analyses might filter out the exceptions to the rule. Has experimental work by now moved on to using genetically dissimilar starting populations to investigate if convergent evolution is powerful enough to funnel different populations towards the same evolutionary outcome?

I wouldn’t say that this is a weak point of field experiments. Rather, it is a consequence of the hypothesis that is being tested. If you want to understand why guppies evolve to be more colourful in the absence of predators, then the appropriate experiment is to create multiple replicate populations of guppies in different conditions and see what happens. But, as I wrote in the book, we would expect very similar, closely-related populations to evolve similar adaptive responses to the same questions. One approach would be to conduct parallel experiments on many different species of fish to see the extent to which they adapt in similar ways (or in differing ways). Right now, I’m unaware of anyone doing this. However, different researchers sometimes ask the same question with different species, and this is the most likely way we will be able to address this question.

5. Part Three of your book looks at long-term laboratory experiments with bacteria. It seems here too, results initially suggested convergent evolution is the rule. Until exceptions starting cropping up on the longer term. Does the answer to the question whether evolution is repeatable depend on the timescale over which you look? Are we too focused on the short-term if we conclude that convergent evolution is the rule, rather than the exception?

That’s a keen observation. In Rich Lenski’s Long-Term Evolution Experiment, the story after 14 years was that evolution is pretty repeatable. Then, 30,000+ generations into the experiment, one of 12 experimental lines evolved a very different adaptation, one that still hasn’t been matched in the other 11 lines after another 14 years. So, yes, the longer one conducts a study, the greater the chance that rare, unique adaptations will occur (and we must remember that 30,000 generations are a drop in the evolutionary bucket). On the other hand, as Rich Lenski himself says, if the LTEE is continued long enoughmaybe for 300,000 generations – then perhaps the other 11 populations will discover the new adaptive solution as well. So, yes, definitely, these studies need to be continued much longer. Most studies today, LTEE’s fame and influence notwithstanding, are much shorter in length (note: Losos and Lenski edited the book How Evolution Shapes Our Lives. ed.).

6. You conclude your book by saying that in the short term evolution is predictable, but that the world of biological possibilities is a vast one, and that in the long term, chance events have had a large impact. Given the many books dedicated to the topic of convergent evolution, and the way it speaks to people’s imagination, do you think we have overestimated the importance of this mechanism? Are we too keen on seeing patterns where there are none?

Well, we need a bit of historical perspective on this question. Until recently, we thought of convergent evolution as relatively rare. Great examples of the power of natural selection, worthy of being in biology textbooks, but not at all common. Now, thanks to the work of Simon Conway Morris and others, we realize that convergence is much more pervasive than we used to believe. This has been a valid contribution to our understanding of evolution. Nonetheless, some workers have gone too far, in my estimation, in emphasizing the importance and prevalence of convergent evolution. It is a common and important aspect of evolution, but it is not the only story.

Improbable Destinies is available to order from NHBS

The 100 best articles for ecologists

Keeping up to date with the latest research is a key part of any career in science. However, the push for researchers to publish early in their career and at frequent intervals means that there is now a seemingly unconquerable body of literature available to sift through. Because of the time-consuming nature of reading, processing and assimilating all of this information, the unfortunately result is that many researchers only find time to read the “hot” papers that are well publicised, or they focus primarily on papers that are recent and well-cited.

Image by brownpau via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
The days of searching through library index cards are now a distant memory.

The advent of online journals also means that the days of physically searching for articles using paper records and traipsing around library stacks to locate a particular journal edition are a thing of the past. One result of this is that students and researchers who use the same or similar online search terms are likely to be directed to the same sub-set of papers, to the exclusion of other thematically similar but less relevant articles.

On the face of it, this may seem like a good thing, but it ignores the fact that methodological and conceptual insights are often to be found in papers which are not directly related to one’s own research; papers that would have been found more frequently when searching in a “bricks and mortar” library. It also means that older papers, which are still of importance for providing a good grounding in both methods and concepts, may be overlooked. By ignoring these older papers, the risk of repeating work that has already been undertaken or explored, is also higher.

With these concerns in mind, Franck Courchamp and Corey Bradshaw from the Université Paris-Saclay in France and Flinders University in Australia have taken it upon themselves to produce a list of the top 100 articles that every ecologist should read. Their key objective was to propose a list of seminal papers that, regardless of date of publication or specific subject area, would provide ecologists with a well-rounded understanding of ecology.

To create this list, they first assembled a long-list of 544 paper which were nominated by a group of 147 ecology journal editorial members; individuals that were recognised as experts in their field and who have an excellent knowledge of publications in their subject area. This list was then ranked via random-sample voting by 368 ecology experts and the top 100 papers collated into a comprehensive and varied reading list.

A century and a half after its publication, Darwin’s paper on natural selection remains a key ecology text.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number one paper on the list was Darwin and Wallace putting forth their theory of natural selection. Published in 1858, this entry also represents the oldest paper on the list. More surprising was the average age of the top-ranked papers, with a huge number of them being from the 1960s and 1970s whilst very few were included from the 21st century. Most of the papers were not published in journals with a particularly high impact factor and, in many cases, they did not receive an unduly high number of citations, indicating that citation-based selections are not always the most appropriate when selecting papers for background reading.

The final list provides ecologists with an excellent starting point for establishing a well-rounded understanding of basic ecological theories. Whether you’re an early-career scientist, a well-established researcher or even a keen amateur with an enquiring mind, there is plenty here to expand your knowledge.

The list of 100 papers, together with a description of the methods and discussion of the subject, is published in Nature Ecology and Evolution and is available to view online.

 

 

The NHBS Guide to Small Mammal Trapping

Field vole (Microtus agrestis)

Small mammals form a vital component of our terrestrial ecosystems, both by contributing to overall biodiversity and providing prey for carnivores such as owls, pine martens and weasels. Survey data for many of our small mammal species is insufficient for them to be assessed as part of the UK BAP process and so supporting our national monitoring programme is incredibly important.

One of the most common ways of monitoring small mammals is through the use of live traps. These allow a range of species to be monitored simultaneously, and also allow biometric data such as weight and sex to be collected. In addition, estimates of population size and structure can be calculated using capture-mark-recapture (CMR) techniques. The use of live traps is also a great way for getting volunteers involved and providing them with an up-close experience of the animals they are passionate about.

Live-catch techniques, however, do have a few disadvantages in that populations can be affected by disturbance or mortality. Live-trapping is also unsuitable in certain areas (such as urban or busy rural regions) and requires a relatively large amount of time and expenditure.

Here we will take a look at some of the most commonly available live-traps used for small mammal survey.

Longworth Trap

Longworth Small Mammal Trap

The Longworth trap is made from aluminium which makes it lightweight for field use. This trap has been widely used in the UK for many years.

The trap consists of two parts: a tunnel which contains the door tripping mechanism, and a nest box, which is attached to the back of the tunnel. The nest box provides a large space for food and bedding material to ensure that the trapped animal is comfortable until release.

Advantages
• Widely used for many years; well documented in scientific literature
• Lightweight and durable
• Sensitivity of the trip mechanism can be adjusted
• Door can be locked open for pre-baiting

Disadvantages:
• Expensive
• Replacement parts not available
• Larger species can occasionally trip the trap without being caught
• Pygmy shrews may be too light to trigger the trap mechanism

Sherman Trap

Sherman Trap

Sherman traps work by use of a triggered platform which causes the door to shut when the animal enters. It folds down to a size and shape which is easy to transport.

Sherman traps are available in a range of different sizes to suit the species that you are hoping to catch. They can be purchased in aluminium or as a galvanised version which is more resistant to rusting.

Advantages:
• Lightweight and foldable – easy to transport and store
• Different sizes available, including long versions
• Easy to clean

Disadvantages:
• Difficult to add bedding/food as this interferes with the trap mechanism
• Traps may distort over time with repeated folding
• Danger of long tails being trapped in the door

 

Economy Mammal Trip-Trap

Economy Mammal Trip-Trap

The Economy Trip-Trap provides a cheaper alternative to other mammal traps.  It has a traditional treadle design which closes the door behind the animal when it enters the trap.

This lightweight trap is suitable for short-term or occasional use and is also popular for trapping mice indoors either for surveying or for relocation.

Advantages:
• Cheap and lightweight
• Transparent for easy inspection
• Good for indoor use

Disadvantages:
• Doesn’t work well in wet/humid conditions
• Can’t pre-bait or change trigger sensitivity
• Trapped animals may chew through the trap

Pitfall Traps

P2.5 litre Plastic Bucketitfall Traps consist of a container which is sunk into the ground, into which small mammals can be caught. Traps can be baited if required and drift fencing can also be used to direct animals into the trap.

Small cans or buckets make ideal pitfall traps. If using buckets, lids can be fitted when not in use, which means that traps can remain in situ for extended periods of time.

Advantages:
• Able to catch multiple individuals
• Low maintenance

Disadvantages:
• More labour intensive than box traps to set up
• Trapped animals may attack eachother or be eaten by predators
• May become waterlogged in damp areas or in bad weather

Other survey methods

Other methods of surveying for small mammals include the analysis of owl pellets for mammal remains and the use of dormouse nest tubes. Hair and footprint tubes are also useful as well as searching for field signs such as tracks and faeces.

A comprehensive monitoring programme will most likely involve a combination of these methods, depending on the availability of participants and volunteers and the type of habitat present locally.

If you are interested in becoming involved in mammal survey in the UK, take a look at the Mammal Society website where you will find information on local recording groups, training opportunities and the latest mammal-related research.

Our full range of mammal traps can be found on our website.