Going to Bat for Bioacoustics: How Acoustic Monitoring is Helping to Save Bats – Webinar Round-up

Recently, Wildlife Acoustics and Bat Conservation International partnered together to host a webinar highlighting the use of bioacoustics in bat conservation across the globe. The webinar featured three case studies tackling the impacts of white-nose syndrome, habitat loss and climate change with the help of bioacoustic technology. Here, we provide a summary of these case studies and the applications of acoustic monitoring in these investigations. 


Florida USA, Dr. Melquisedec Gamba-Rios 

Endemic to the region, the Florida Bonneted Bat (Eumops floridanus) is increasingly threatened by habitat loss from sea level rise and destructive development. This species has one of the smallest ranges in Southern Florida and utilises old tree cavities and large, open spaces for roosting and feeding. Dr. Gamba-Rios and his team sought to identify critical habitat for this endangered species using bioacoustics, hoping to support their fragile populations.  

The team used acoustic recorders to identify key roosting and feeding areas for the species. Interestingly, they found that Miami’s zoo, golf courses and tropical parks had high numbers of Florida Bonneted Bat calls. The research showed that the large, open areas surrounded by forest and absence of artificial light of these locations provided an ideal foraging space for the species. 

Since these bats require older, cavitied trees, the habitat of the group is at risk as development increases. Plans for water park construction were proposed on a key site for this species, however the evidence gathered here was used to challenge the proposal, resulting in its rejection to protect key bat habitat. In March 2024, over 1.1 million acres of critical habitat were designated for the species in Florida, including foraging areas in urban habitat and over 4,000 acres of Miami Pine Rocklands. Federally protected species are known to be twice as likely to move toward recovery than those without protection, so the designation of these spaces is incredibly important in securing the future of this species.  

Shows a small brown bat with closed eyes, it is held in a blue blanket in daylight
Florida Bonneted Bat by Florida Fish and Wildlife via Flickr

Nyungwe National Park, Dr. Jon Flanders 

Last seen in 1981, the Hill’s Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hilli) was considered a ‘lost’ species in Rwanda.  In January 2019, a group of scientists and researchers, including Dr. Jon Flanders, set out on a 10-day expedition in Nyungwe National Park, looking to rediscover this elusive animal.  

Nyungwe National Park rangers played a key role in the early stages of this project, identifying caves and key habitat for bats in the area. The rangers conducted acoustic monitoring using SM4 Acoustics to identify foraging and roosting areas, collecting over 260,000 files of acoustic data. Eight of these recordings successfully detected the calls of the Hill’s Horseshoe Bat, found in small, defined ranges. During the 10-day trip, the team worked relentlessly to catch, measure and collect DNA samples from bats using mist nets and harp traps in these locations. The team successfully captured two Hill’s Horseshoe Bats and confirmed the capture of this critically endangered species with museum archive specimens. The expedition highlighted the spectacular diversity of Nyungwe National Park which features a large number of rare and endemic species, and these findings reinforce the parks importance as a biodiversity hotspot.

A brown bat is hanging upside down. it has white fluffy mould covering its wings and face
Little Brown Bat with white-nose syndrome by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr

White-nose Syndrome, Dr. Amanda Adams 

White-nose syndrome is a cold-loving, infectious fungal disease found in bats. The fungus manifests in a total skin infection, most visible around the muzzle of the animal. This infection is responsible for significant mortality in several species, where the infection causes bats to wake often during hibernation – burning their fat stores, causing dehydration and starvation. Infected bats can expend up to twice the amount of energy as healthy individuals during hibernation, severely impacting their ability to survive the winter. Because of this, six million animals have succumbed to this infection so far, impacting 12 out of 44 species found in the USA.  

Dr. Amanda Adams sought to use bioacoustics to enhance the management of foraging habitat to support these species through hibernation. The team used the Song meter mini to search for the presence of bats and observe their feeding behaviours. They found that feeding behaviours were observed up to three times more in prey patches, and this allowed researchers to designate feeding habitats for affected species. The survey will be used to inform vegetative management on passing corridors, aiming to increase the productivity of foraging areas to support the health of infected bats.  


The Going to Bat for Bioacoustics webinar provided an engaging insight into the applications of acoustic monitoring in bat research, showing how the technology can be used to support bat conservation. To learn more, the Wildlife Acoustics website has a range of training courses and webinars. Upcoming events can be found here 

 

Restore Nature Now 2024

The Restore Nature Now March took place in Central London on Saturday 22nd June. The march saw the coming together of over 350 charities, businesses and direct-action groups calling on the government to work harder to protect biodiversity in the UK and Restore Nature Now!  Some of the NHBS team travelled up from Devon and joined the estimated 100,000 people that took part in the march. 


 

‘The Restore Nature Now march felt really galvanizing. It was heartening to walk with so many ecologists, scientists and activists and to dip into conversations about the amazing work people are participating in around the country to lead and assist in nature recovery. I was really moved by the impassioned speeches in parliament square from a host of brilliant speakers, and the sight of three peregrine falcons over Westminster was a potent and magical moment too!’ – Oli

 

A large puppet bat held by a crowd.
A large bat puppet made by the Bat Conservation Trust.
A vibrant banner to stand up for nature.

 

‘It felt great to be a part of the march and join so many other people passionate about our nature and wildlife.  The speakers at Parliament Square were inspirational, sadly I’m not sure if our politicians heard them, but we will be back and continue to be a voice for nature.’ Adam

An estimated 100,000 took part in the march.
The march was supported by a range of nature-focused organisations including RSPB, Plantlife and WWF.
The family-friendly march had lots of entertainment and interactive activities.

WHY DID THE DEMONSTRATION TAKE PLACE? 

Restore Nature Now took place to call on political parties to act on the climate crisis and use the upcoming general election as a turning point. Their demands are as follows: 

A PAY RISE FOR NATURE: To facilitate nature recovery, agricultural landowners need more support to make climate-friendly choices, and to do this, Restore Nature Now urged the UK government to double the nature and climate-friendly farming budget.  

MAKE POLLUTERS PAY: Big business significantly contributes to environmental decline and the climate crisis, and to tackle this, organisers asked for new rules and regulations to be introduced to enforce greater contributions.  

MORE SPACE FOR NATURE: Restore Nature Now campaigned for the expansion and improvement of protected areas and called for an improvement of public land and national parks to make a greater contribution to nature recovery. 

A RIGHT TO A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT: Calling for the creation of an Environmental Rights Bill, organisers are looking for the UK Government to drive better nature decisions to improve public health. 

FAIR AND EFFECTIVE CLIMATE ACTION: To solve the climate crisis, and in turn save nature, more investment is required into effective climate action. 


Restore Nature Now was a fantastic demonstration of hope and a call to action for the UK government. Our staff had an enlightening experience and thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment and talks throughout the day.  

30 Days Wild: NHBS Update

30 Days Wild is an annual challenge organised by The Wildlife Trusts which encourages people across Britain to do one wild thing every day in the month of June. This year marks the 10th anniversary of 30 Days Wild, and the Trusts are celebrating with more people than ever. From dining al fresco to taking part in a beach clean, there is something for everyone with this initiative. NHBS are taking part in 30 Days Wild this year, and we would like to share how our staff are exploring the wonders of nature.


Here’s a selection of things we’ve done so far:  

Jo has been working hard to grow strawberries at home and has finally managed to pick the first of her home-grown fruits!  

A strawberry plant on a bed of straw. A juicy red berry is ready to be picked.

 

Simon has been bird watching at Slapton Sands and Berry Head in the summer sun and has found some fascinating coastal species, including Guillemots and Cormorants. 

A rock face full of nesting birds

A guillemot sits on the ocean surface. It has chocolate brown upper side and white underside with a dark coloured beak

 

We had a wildlife hunt on our office lawn – #NoMowMay and Let it Bloom June have treated us to an amazing diversity of organisms, including a Southern Marsh Orchid, a Painted Lady Butterfly and a Little Brown Mushroom.  

A painted lady butterfly is perched on a dandelion flower in a lawn.

A little brown mushroom is pictured between blades of grass in a garden lawn

 

Oli captured a fantastic image of a female Great Spotted Woodpecker while visiting a bird feeder in his local area! 

A great spotted woodpecker is grasping onto a bird feeder full of peanuts.

 

In Brixham Harbour, Simon has been spotting cetaceans and marine mammals including Harbour Porpoise and Grey Seals!  

A harbour porpoise breaking the waters edge

A grey seal is resting on a large pipe in a harbour.

 

30 Days Wild has been a great way for all of us at NHBS to explore nature. The initiative is a perfect reminder to take some time outside every day, take a deep breath and to smell the flowers. Follow our journey throughout June on Facebook, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) – stay tuned to see some wildlife drawings, leaf rubbings and a busy bug hotel! 

South West Marine Ecosystems conference 2024

The 2024 South West Marine Ecosystems (SWME) conference was held at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in April. Running since 2007, the conference brings together organisations and individuals involved in research on and management of the marine environment to report on annual system changes in the south-west. The conference covers the oceanography, plankton, seabed and seashore, fish, seabirds, seals and cetaceans of the south-west. Alongside key trends and interesting occurrences from the past year, SWME also encompasses management themes: marine planning, protected areas, fisheries, water quality and plastic pollution. This year’s theme focussed on the interconnectedness of the environment and its management, demonstrating this connectivity through interaction and discussion between guest speakers. In this blog we provide a roundup of SWME 2024 

Coastline in Dorset showing a rocky water edge and sunset
Image by Pedro via Flickr.

Environment 

The first session began with a rundown of oceanography and weather conditions across the UK, setting the scene for our marine environment. The UK experienced an increase in mean air temperature and increased sunshine duration over winter. There was also a decrease in mean rainfall across the UK and record-breaking heatwaves – some of us may remember the scorching temperatures of June last year, a worrying 2–3°C anomaly.  

From March 2024, a new bylaw prohibits the use of bottom towed gear in defined areas of 13 marine protected areas (MPAs). Hartland Point to Tintagel Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ), Cape Bank MCZ, Lands End and Cape Bank MCZ, South of Celtic Deep MCZ, Wight-Barfleur Reef MCZ, East of Haig Fras MCZ and Greater Haig Fras MCZ are the MPAs that will benefit from this designation in the south-west. Devon Wildlife Trust vocalised a desire for a ‘whole-site approach’ for MPAs in the region – managing the site in its entirety, not just where protected species or features are present. 

No single stretch of river was found to be in ‘good’ overall health in 2023. Image by Dave_S via Flickr.

The Devon Maritime Forum stressed an urgency to address issues surrounding water quality in the south-west. They reported that no single stretch of river was found to be in ‘good’ overall health in 2023 – with quality impacted by agricultural run-off, sewage overflows, climate change and urban diffuse pollution. The UK Government has pledged to invest £1.6 billion to improve the water quality of rivers, lakes and coastal waters. Investments will be used to tackle storm overflow discharges, treatment works pollution and water resilience. South West Water will also be investing £70 million to upgrade infrastructure to reduce discharges in the region.  

Analysis of plastic pollution showed that polyethylene was the most common material in plastic waste and marine litter fragments. To tackle the issue of plastic pollution on a global scale, the Global Plastics Treaty is under negotiation, and is expected to be legally binding by 2024. The treaty will address the full life cycle of plastic products and aim to end the pollution by these materials worldwide.  

Key points:  

  • Higher average winter temperatures and sunshine, with decreased rainfall were observed in 2023 
  • A new bylaw will prohibit the use of bottom-towed gear in seven MPAs. 
  • The UK Government has pledged to invest £1.6 billion to improve freshwater and coastal water quality 
  • The Global Plastics Treaty will be legally binding by the end of 2024, intending to end plastic pollution

 

Organisms

Plankton researchers saw a higher abundance of salps (a barrel-shaped pelagic tunicate), consistent with a general increase in filter feeders over the past 30 years. There was also an influx of Barrel Jellyfish strandings across the south-west, with the species accounting for 27% (467) of the annual total of jellyfish sightings. A new method of plankton sampling has been developed, called Automated In-situ Plankton Imaging and Classification System (APICS). This new technology will help to determine the impacts of environmental changes on plankton, allowing for long-term, broad-spectrum measurements of the group.  

New observations have improved our understanding of Basking Shark behaviour, revealing that this species may remain in UK waters throughout winter, instead of migrating south as previously believed. Blue Sharks were also caught more readily than previous years, exhibiting a higher catch per unit effort (CPUE), with over 1,000 caught off the coast of Looe, in Cornwall. The UK had its first sightings of Smalltooth Sand Tiger Shark, with a 10-foot individual washing up in Lyme Regis, Dorset. Typically seen in tropical and temperate waters, the discovery of this species in the UK is indicative of the effects of climate change on marine megafauna. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna have also been returning to the south-west with most sightings between July and February. There has been a marked increase in catch rate (over 5,000 were landed in 2023) which has prompted the introduction of fisheries plans (see below).  

A large white Barrel jellyfish with a blue fringe in the sea
2023 saw an influx of Barrel Jellyfish strandings. Image by Ales Kladnik via Flickr.

Rat eradication has been hugely successful for a number of seabirds. On Lundy, Manx Shearwaters and Puffins have responded positively and have seen population increases in 2023, and Storm Petrels have recolonised the island. Razorbills and Guillemots are also recovering well and are breeding successfully without predation from rats. The south-west has luckily missed the worst of avian influenza, although some small gulls and terns were affected in Dorset last summer. However, Kittiwakes are having local productivity issues which is prompting concern, and several species of gull are experiencing significant declines: Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls have all experienced losses over 40%. The English Seabird Conservation and Recovery Pathway (ESCaRP) report was published at the start of 2024, highlighting the sensitivity of seabird species to a range of pressures. Vulnerability assessments were conducted to inform the recovery pathway, and the report has made recommendations for conservation measures to address negative impacts.  

Puffins have responded positively to rat eradication programmes. Image by Jason Thompson via Flickr.

There are concerns over the impacts of climate change on Humpback Whales. Increasingly, we are seeing individuals which are choosing not to migrate and are instead remaining in UK waters. Researchers believe that these animals are not undertaking seasonal movements due to a lack of food resources during winter – demonstrating that decreased productivity at the base of the food chain can cause issues further down the line for other marine organisms.

Key points:

  • New technology will provide a greater understanding of the impact environmental change may have on plankton 
  • Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and shark sightings have increased in the south-west, including the Smalltooth Sand Tiger Shark, never previously recorded in the UK 
  • Rat eradication programmes have been hugely successful in protecting seabirds 
  • Kittiwakes and a number of gull species are experiencing declines 
  • Climate change is thought to be impacting Humpback Whale migration 

 

Industry

The Crown Estate have announced plans to develop more offshore wind farm projects, generating an additional 4GW of electricity to contribute to the 50GW by 2030 goal. This additional capacity could power up to four million homes, contributing to the UK target of net zero by 2050. Large, floating platforms have been proposed to enable deployment in deeper water – installation further offshore provides more reliable wind resources, generating more power for the same installation on-shore. There have been assessments to prepare for the deployment of extensive offshore wind in the south-west – with pre-consent surveys run by The Crown Estate. Celtic Sea Power, owned by Cornwall Council, is supporting offshore roll-out and has identified areas for data collection in the region. There are three project development areas where aerial, geophysical, acoustic and LiDAR surveys are taking place to improve data collection, accelerating the programme. The Poseidon Project was established by Natural England to provide a sensitivity map across the EEZ (exclusive economic zone –a surrounding area of 200 nautical miles offshore, where the nation has jurisdiction over resources) through digital aerial surveys. Collecting detailed information on seabirds, marine mammals and habitats, the project aims to improve models of abundance and distribution for key species which may be impacted by offshore development.  

Offshore wind farm
There have been preparations to install further offshore wind. Image by the Department of Energy and Climate Change via Flickr.

 

Sardine and Anchovy stocks are reported to have had a good year, continuing to support fisheries in the south-west, while Sprat fisheries have slowed due to insufficient stock size and 0-group fish (fish in their first year of life). We can see that new fisheries are emerging in the region (e.g. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna quota of 39 tonnes), while other, more traditional stocks are declining (e.g. Edible Crab). Five fisheries management plans have been developed for bass, King Scallops, crab and lobster, whelk and non-quota demersal species – these plans are put in place to deliver sustainable fisheries while minimising negative impacts on marine species. Dogger bank SAC, The Canyons MCZ and Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge SAC were protected from damaging fishing activity in 2022 by prohibiting trawls, seines, dredges and bottom towed gear – this bylaw seeks to protect cold-water coral reefs, seabed, sandbanks and biogenic reef.  

Key points:  

  • Offshore wind development is being accelerated by better data collection and availability, supporting the UK in reaching renewable energy targets 
  • Some traditional stocks are declining, while new fisheries are emerging 
  • Five fisheries management plans were introduced 
  • Four areas of conservation concern were protected to prohibit bottom towed gear 

This year’s conference was an enlightening insight into the marine ecosystem in the south-west and highlighted some inspirational conservation work undertaken by several organisations, and individuals, dedicated to this environment. The SWME YouTube channel has a selection of webinars and further information on the conference can be found on the SWME website 

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! 

 

Phenology Series: Spring

Springtime is often synonymous with rebirth, renewal and regrowth. As the Earth’s axis tilts towards the sun, our days become warmer and the snow starts to melt. The rivers and streams swell, air and ground temperatures rise, and we start to see new plant growth.

There are no fixed calendar dates for the beginning of spring. Ecologically, the start of this season relates to biological indicators, such as the start of certain animal activities and the blossoming of particular plant species. Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events from year to year, like the budburst of trees, the arrival of summer migrant species, the breeding bird season and the emergence of hibernating wildlife. You can find out more about the study of phenology in our previous blog post.

This is the first in our four part seasonal phenology series where you can explore a collection of ID blogs, books, equipment and events to make the most of the spring season.


Identification guides

Over the years, we’ve made a number of identification guides for UK species, many of which are active during spring. Here’s a selection that we think are particularly useful for this season:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What you might see:

  • You will likely start to notice the first flowering of many plant species, including Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis), Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis), Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and Wood Anemone (Anemondoides nemorosa).
  • The budburst of trees, including Alder (Alnus glutinosa), Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and Sycamore (Acerpseudoplatanus), with many also having their first leaves appear in March or early April.
  • Trees such as Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Hazel (Corylus avellana) and Field Maple (Acer campestre) begin to produce blossoms and catkins. Spring blossom can start as early as February and last through to early summer.

  • The emergence of several insect species, such as Seven-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella septempunctata), Orange Tip butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines), Green Tiger Beetles (Cicindela campestris) and Dark-edged Bee-flies (Bombylius major).
  • The beginning of the nesting season for most European bird species, including Great Tits (Parus major), Tawny Owls (Strix aluco), Long-eared Owls (Asio otus) and Wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes). Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus) start their courtship rituals in early spring, with their elaborate dances, synchronised swimming, preening and ‘mewing’.
  • Many migratory birds also begin to arrive during spring, such as Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita), Swallows (Hirundo rustica) and Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe).

  • Reptiles and amphibians become more active during spring and into summer, coming out of hibernation and venturing to find food and breeding sites. Frogspawn, toadspawn and tadpoles also begin to appear during early spring and onwards.
  • A number of mammal species give birth during this time so that their young are born when resources are most plentiful. Badger cubs (Meles meles), which are mainly born in February, will begin to gradually emerge from their setts during spring.


Activities:


Upcoming events:

Earth Day – 22nd April
International Dawn Chorus Day – 5th May
Hedgehog Awareness Week – 5th to 11th May
World Bee Day – 20th May
International Day for Biological Diversity – 22nd May
World Environment Day – 5th June
World Ocean Day – 8th June
Insect Week – 24th to 30th June


Essential equipment and books:

An Identification Guide to Garden Insects of Britain and North-West Europe

 

 

 

 

Wild Flower Flowcharts: Species ID the Easy Way

 

 

 

Great British Marine Animals

 

 

 

 

 

Opticron Hand Lens: 15x 23mm

Check out our guide to hand lenses and our full range.

 

Educational Rock Pooling Kit

 

 

 

Wireless Nest Box Camera.

Wireless Nest Box Camera

 

 

 

 

 

Browse our full collection for more spring books and equipment highlights.

Toads in the Roads

It is in the earliest months of the year, when the weather turns milder and deeply saturating rains arrive, that adult toads, frogs and newts begin to emerge from their wintering hibernacula and make their long-standing annual journeys to the waterways in which they breed. It’s an ancient way of life for amphibians and a behaviour that pre-dates humankind by millennia.

Close up of a Toad crossing a loose, stony road at night.
Toad – Oli Haines

Roads are a relatively new addition to the landscape by comparison. A blink of an eye in toad evolution. They frequently bisect the paths that amphibians must navigate in order to reach their ancestral ponds. Being relatively slow-moving, small, and cryptically coloured, amphibians are incredibly vulnerable on tarmac roads. As such, it is estimated that two tons of toads are killed on roads each year in the UK.

This February was one of the warmest and wettest on record in England, and it felt every bit of it. Despite the gloom of early darkness and torrential rain, I was thrilled to sign up and join an enthusiastic local volunteer group of Toad patrollers, deep in the Devon laneways, to learn what work is being done to mitigate our impact on the amphibians currently making these critical journeys.

The Toads on Roads project was spearheaded by the amphibian charity Froglife over twenty years ago. Volunteers that are involved in the project put in considerable effort each year to monitor known and established toad crossings around the country. These are the places where toads gather in their largest numbers and are at significant risk of being run over in their attempts to reach spawning ponds.

The group I joined have, for a number of years, been protecting an intersection where three roads meet beside a large pond. As we gather in high-vis vests at around half five in the evening, it’s already fully dark. We’re wearing latex-free gloves and bearing large white buckets. The pond is swelling up either side of the road, flooding the tree roots in a muddy soup. The rain falls intermittently and, sure enough, a proud collection of male toads is already eagerly lining the roads awaiting the females.

Toads crossing for 800 metres sign on the side of a road with a grassy verge, wildflowers and long grass.
Toads crossing sign in Stalisfield Road by Pam Fray, via geograph.org.

We walk along the lane counting the toads we find and placing markers near them that are more visible for passing cars than the toads themselves are. It’s not such a busy road, but it is narrow and steeply enclosed between old earthen hedgerows that cars and tractors have clipped away over time, resulting in an overhang that the toads are incapable of climbing. Often, they become trapped along the lane. Where we find them in a predicament, we watch to observe the direction of their travel, and if the cars come, we gently lift the toads off the tarmac and place them in the verge where they appear to be headed.

A few drivers who come by slow down and ask what we’re doing. Many seem intrigued by the response, often vowing to take care as they go on. I’m told this is an improvement. As awareness of toad crossings and the work being done to monitor them increases, people are more understanding, though I’m assured there’s still animosity from some drivers who feel inconvenienced.

During some of the evenings on the patrol we encountered beastly weather; driving rain and flooded roads; and I marvelled at the dedication of the volunteers and their care for the amphibians crossing the roads. I learned that more people are approaching Froglife to get involved and that, due to increased awareness and publicity, the plight of toads is reaching more and more would-be patrollers. There have also been successful cases of temporary road closures to divert traffic during the heights of toad migration in the UK this year.

Close up of two toads, one on the back of another, crossing a gravelly road at night.
Toads – Oli Haines

It’s a complex web of challenges that contribute to amphibian population declines – not just nationally but globally. Land-use intensification threatens our waterways with myriad pollutants and our roads and construction projects fragment vital habitats or obliterate them entirely. It’s heartening that awareness is building. It has been such an inspiration to me to learn there’s a network of enthusiastic and caring volunteers out there in the winter nights, working at limiting the damage to amphibian populations, championing these remarkable and charismatic animals, and building hopeful connections in local communities while doing so.

If you feel call to get involved, visit the Froglife website where you can learn more about local toad crossings. There’s also abundant information on ways that you can make any local green spaces or gardens more amphibian friendly, such as making ponds, allowing wilder patches and encouraging greater invertebrate diversity.


Read our two-part Gardening for Wildlife blog for more information.

The Big Garden Birdwatch: NHBS Staff Results 2024

Greenfinch perched on a piece of metal.

The RSPB’s 45th Big Garden Birdwatch took place between Friday 26th and Sunday 28th January 2024. This annual event is one of the largest citizen science wildlife surveys in the UK and helps us gain an understanding of how our garden bird populations are changing in abundance and distribution over time.  Over half a million people took part in last year’s event, recording a total of 9.1 million birds. House Sparrows took first place, despite a gradual 57% decrease in sightings since the first Birdwatch Count in 1979. They were closely followed by the Blue Tit and Starling. 

Although the Big Garden Birdwatch has finished, there is still time to submit your results on the RSPB website by the 18th February, or by post before the 13th February. Even if you didn’t see anything, it still counts! 

With birds being faced with an increasing number of challenges each year, it’s more important than ever to make your garden and outdoor space wildlife friendly. This can include installing bird feeders or tables which provide an important food source throughout the winter months when natural food sources are scarce., You can also provide clean, fresh drinking water in shallow containers such as bird baths or saucers, and install nest boxes for breeding in the spring. Also, don’t forget to regularly clean and maintain your feeders and baths as this helps stop the spread of disease. Head over to the RSPB website to find out more about how you can help your garden birds. 

A robin stood on top of a wet wooden fencepost.
Robin – Catherine Mitson

Results

As usual, many of our staff took part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch from their gardens or local parks across Devon, and we recorded a total of 129 birds and 22 different species. Compared to last years results, there was a 31% increase in sightings, while an additional nine species were spotted in this year’s count. The most sighted bird was the Carrion Crow, closely followed by the Blue Tit and Magpie. In comparison, the county’s top birds were the House Sparrow, Blue Tit and Starling.

Sabine took part in the event from her garden and spotted: 

3 Carrion Crow 

2 Wood Pigeon  

1 Robin  

2 Magpie  

1 Blackbird  

1 Song Thrush  

Common Wood Pigeon sat on a small wooden bird feeder house by a Silver Birch tree.
Wood Pigeon – Oli Haines

Oli took part in the event from his garden and spotted: 

3 Blackbirds 

2 Woodpigeon  

3 Jackdaw  

2 Blue tits 

1 Dunnock 

1 Great tit 

1 Robin 

1 Magpie 

1 Goldfinch

 

Adam took part in the event from his garden and spotted: 

2 Blackbirds 

6 Blue Tits 

1 Chaffinch 

2 Great Tits 

4 House Sparrow 

Photograph of a Dunnock sat on a wooden fencepost in a garden looking up at the sky about to fly off.
Dunnock – Oli Haines

Catherine took part in the event from her garden and spotted:  

2 Collared Dove 

2 Jackdaw 

4 Starling 

1 Woodpigeon 

 

Mark took part in the event from his local park and spotted: 

5 Parakeets  

12 Crows  

4 Magpies  

10 Herring Gull

Blackbird stood on a branch with trees and blue sky behind it.
Blackbird – Catherine Mitson

Elle took part in the event from her garden and spotted: 

2 Blue Tits 

1 Dunnock  

1 Grey Wagtail 

2 Wood Pigeon 

1 Magpie  

1 Great Tit 

 

Mal took part in the event from her local park and spotted: 

3 Carrion Crow 

1 Buzzard 

 

Daniel took part in the event from his garden and spotted: 

10 Chaffinch

7 Blue Tits

5 Long Tailed Tits

4 House Sparrow

3 Great Tits

2 Goldfinch

1 Coal Tit

1 Blackbird

1 Wren

1 Dunnock

1 Robin 

Female Blackbird stood on grass covered in leaves.
Blackbird – Catherine Mitson

We’d also love to hear what you spotted if you took part – let us know in the comments below.


The RSPB: 

For more information on UK garden birds, identification guides, the 2024 Big Garden Birdwatch, past results and more, please visit the RSPB website. 

Free Webinar: Cold Weather Soundscapes; from Arctic Coasts to Alpine Valleys

Cold-Weather-Webinar_800x300_2024-01-10-151956_zlmv

Researchers are using bioacoustics to study how animals in cold-weather environments hear and process sound, why they vocalise, and whether acoustic tools can help mitigate conflicts. Meanwhile, artists are documenting the impact of climate change, recording the sound of melting glacial ice to curate immersive exhibits.

How are their efforts drawing attention to fragile ecosystems? Find out at the Wildlife Acoustics FREE webinar at 3pm (GMT) on 8th February!

Click here to register your place.

Wildlife Acoustics Logo


FEATURING

The Cry Wolf Project: Bioacoustics & Carnivores in Yellowstone National Park

Come and learn about how bioacoustics are being used to study wolf vocalisations in the remote and often wintery locations of Yellowstone National Park. We’ll cover the use of wildlife recorders for studying the function of wolf vocalisations, generating population estimates, and mediating wildlife-livestock conflicts. We’ll also demonstrate how Kaleidoscope Pro classifiers were used to find wolf vocalisations in large recording datasets. Most importantly, we’ll have fun listening to never-before-heard wild wolf sounds, recorded non-invasively in 2023.

Un Suono in Estinzione (A Sound in Extinction) – Adamello Glacier, Italian Alps

Hear the results of an experimental research project aimed at monitoring the implications of climate change on Alpine glaciers through the analysis of sound expressed in educational, artistic, and scientific activities. Un Suono in Estinzione (A Sound in Extinction) began in 2020 with researcher and sound artist Sergio Maggioni, around whom a team of professionals from different fields was created in a short time. Learn about the results of this fascinating bioacoustics project and its inspiration.

Acoustic Sensory Ecology of Diving Alcid Seabirds & Potential Noise Impacts

Alcid seabirds like the Atlantic Puffin are important components of holarctic coastal ecosystems and may derive important acoustic cues from the surrounding natural soundscape. As people increasingly utilise Arctic coastal areas, it is essential to characterise these soundscapes as a baseline for understanding seabird acoustic biology so that we can quantify the effects of human activity on their acoustic ecology over time. Learn how passive acoustic monitoring was used to document and describe the aerial soundscape dynamics of puffins and other Alcids seabirds such as Common Murres and Marbled Murrelets, and explore how these soundscapes may be related to their acoustic sensory biology.

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PRESENTERS

Jeff Reed, PhD
CEO | Grizzly Systems
Montana, United States

Jeff Reed, Wolf Researcher

Jeff Reed was born and raised in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in southwest Montana, United States, and owns Reedfly Farm in Paradise Valley, Montana. After obtaining a PhD in computational linguistics and history, Jeff spent 30 years in the technology industry, working on linguistics and artificial intelligence solutions, and now builds visual and audio tech solutions for wildlife managers. He is an executive committee member of the Upper Yellowstone Watershed Group and Wild Livelihoods, promoting the coexistence of people and wildlife (though he considers people wildlife, too!).

Sergio Maggioni (NEUNAU)
Lead Artist | Un Suono in Estinzione
Adamello-Presanella Alps | Lombardy, Italy

Sergio Maggioni (aka NEUNAU), Researcher and Artist

Sergio Maggioni is the mastermind behind NEUNAU, an artistic sound research project born in Val Camonica, Italy, in 2015. The artist’s namesake is engraved on a rock in Loa, a place of worship from the Iron Age. NEUNAU’s investigations begin with the details a sound source expresses, first capturing and then exploring the sound to compose audio tracks, documentary films, specific performances, and installations that tell the story of the sound’s origins. In 2020, Sergio became the lead artist of Un Suono in Estinzione (A Sound in Extinction), an experimental research project that monitors the implications of climate change on Alpine glaciers through sound analysis in collaboration with universities, institutions, and partners.

Adam Smith, PhD
Postdoctoral Investigator | Dept of Biology Marine Bioacoustics
University of Southern Denmark | Syddanmark, Denmark

Adam Smith, Alcid Researcher

Adam Smith, PhD, grew up in a small town in South Dakota, United States, but became fascinated with the ocean and marine biology through National Geographic magazine articles and Discovery Channel documentaries. As an undergrad, he volunteered to help with research projects on acoustic communication in frogs. This experience hooked him on studying bioacoustics, a field that naturally combines his two great interests: music and nature. In 2011, Adam received his PhD in Zoology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he studied hearing and echolocation in marine mammals. He then spent the following year on a Fulbright Fellowship studying the acoustic sensory ecology of Atlantic Puffins in Iceland. Adam is currently a postdoctoral investigator at the University of Southern Denmark, where he continues to research seabird acoustics and studies the auditory dynamics of biosonar in toothed whales.

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2024

Blue Tit on a branch

For the past 45 years, the RSPB has been running one of the largest citizen science projects in the world, the Big Garden Birdwatch. Every January more than half a million people take to their gardens, parks and balconies to count the birds they see. This huge dataset has allowed the RSPB to create a comprehensive picture of how our local birds are faring, and to examine changes in both abundance and distribution over time.

This year’s Big Garden Birdwatch will take place from the 26th to 28th January and anyone can sign up to take part – all it takes is an hour of your time to record the birds you see in your area and send these results to the RSPB. They will then collate all of the data and publish the results in spring.

How to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch

    • Sign up on the RSPB website 
    • Find a good spot to watch the birds in your garden or a local park and choose an hour between between Friday 26th and Sunday 28th January. 
    • Have fun identifying the species visiting your garden during that hour and count the maximum number of each species you see at any one time. For example, if you see a group of three House Sparrows together and after that another one, the number to submit is three. This method means it is less likely you will count the same birds more than once and makes data analysis easier. Make a note of any other wildlife that you spot as well. 
    • Submit your results on the Big Garden Birdwatch website. Even if you don’t see anything, that’s still useful information. (If you can’t submit your results online, you can print off the form from the free guide and send it by post). 
    • Join in the conversation on RSPB social channels throughout the weekend to see what other nature lovers are spotting across the UK and upload your own pictures and comments using #BigGardenBirdWatch 
    • Look out for the results in April and take pride in having contributed data from your patch.

What did we learn in the 2023 Big Garden Birdwatch?

In 2023, over half a million people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, submitting records of more than 9.1 million birds. The most frequently reported species was the House Sparrow which received 1.4 million sightings, however counts of this bird have notably decreased by 57% when compared to the first Birdwatch in 1979. The second and third spots were held by Blue Tits and Starlings respectively. 

Last year’s results highlighted the vulnerability of some of our smaller garden birds and the environments they live in. Long-tailed Tit sightings increased by 39% in 2023, however they are very susceptible to harsh weather conditions and as a result of this, population numbers have fluctuated since the Big Garden Birdwatch began. Meanwhile, Greenfinches and Chaffinches continued to be affected by a disease known as Trichomonosis, which has led to a 34% decline in UK Chaffinch populations and 65% decline in Greenfinches over the last decade.
It is hoped that this year’s Birdwatch will help to give a better picture of how these population are faring a year on.

How can I encourage more birds and other wildlife to my garden?

 

Participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch is the perfect opportunity to observe how wildlife is using your garden and to give you some insights into how you could make your outdoor space even more attractive to wildlife. 

Improving your garden for wildlife can be as simple as leaving a patch of long grass; providing native trees or plants that are good for pollinators such as lavender, buddleja and verbena; or leaving a woodpile for insects to shelter in. You can also supply nest boxes for birds, bat boxes for summer roosting bats, access panels and shelters for hedgehogs, shelter for frogs and toads, and of course bird feeders, which will bring a multitude of species to your garden.

Recommended books and equipment

 

Collins Bird Guide book coverCollins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe 

With expanded text and additional colour illustrations, the third edition of the hugely successful Collins Bird Guide is a must for every birdwatcher. The combination of definitive text, up-to-date distribution maps and superb illustrations makes this book the ultimate field guide, essential for every birdwatcher and field trip. 

 

RSPB Handbook of British Birds cover

RSPB Handbook of British Birds 

This easy-to-use book is a complete guide to the UK’s most familiar birds and, having been revised for its fifth edition, the RSPB Handbook of British Birds now includes new artwork, additional rarities, extra comparison spreads and a fully updated taxonomic order, in addition to a detailed maps reflecting current UK distributions. 

 

 

Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide coverEurope’s Birds: An Identification Guide 

Covering more than 900 species, and illustrated with over 4,700 photographs, this is the most comprehensive, authoritative and ambitious single-volume photographic guide to Europe’s birds ever produced. The images are stunning to look at, making this a beautiful book to enjoy, as well as an up-to-date and essential source of identification knowledge.

 

Park and Garden Birds coverPark and Garden Birds 

This newly updated fold-out guide covers the top 50 birds of gardens and parks, including ponds and rivers. Designed for speedy bird identification with living birds in the garden, the guide features beautiful colour paintings by Chris Shields. Accompanying text on the reverse side covers body size, food, key identification notes and conservation status. 

 

Challenger Plastic Seed Feeder Challenger Plastic Seed Feeder 

This seed feeder is ideal for small spaces due to its size and is made from durable, long-lasting plastic. The feeder includes perching rings which have been designed to allow birds to feed in their natural facing forward position and is available in two different sizes. 

 

 NHBS Wooden Bird Nest Box NHBS Wooden Bird Nest Box 

Installing a nest box in your garden is one of the easiest ways to support local bird populations, providing them with a warm, sheltered environment with protection from most types of predators. Our own range of wooden bird nest boxes have been custom designed and manufactured from substantial 2cm thick FSC-certified wood, are available with either a 25mm or 32mm entrance hole and can be expected to last for 5–10 years. 

 

Discovery Plastic Window Seed FeederDiscovery Plastic Window Seed Feeder

The Discovery Plastic Window Seed Feeder is ideal for those with small gardens or balconies and who are new to bird feeding. It has two feeding ports with ring perches to allow the birds to feed in a natural position and the high-suction pads securely fix the feeder to glass which offers a fantastic way to watch garden birds up close.

 

Hawke Optics Nature-Trek Binos in greenHawke Optics Nature-Trek Binoculars

The Hawke Optics Nature-Trek Binoculars are great value and ideal for fieldwork. They have a shock-resistant polycarbonate body, making them robust yet lightweight, and are waterproof and fog-free. The inner-focus optical design and BAK 4 roof prism produces high resolution images and ensures no detail is lost when viewing at long or short distances, while they also have effortless focusing and impressive depth of field which makes these binoculars quick and easy to use.

 

Kite Ursus Binoculars in black.Kite Ursus Binoculars

The Kite Ursus binoculars are an easy to use, entry-level pair of binoculars with all-round performance. They have been designed for everyday use and have a robust, fully waterproof housing, rubber touch points, and are lightweight and well balanced with a short hinge and a large ribbed focus wheel so changing focus is easy. As with other Kite binoculars, the Ursus also have a great field of view and, combined with their image quality, this makes them great for panning while watching fast moving subjects.

 

GPO PASSION 10x32 ED Binoculars in green.GPO PASSION 10×32 ED Binoculars

These binoculars combine a sleek design with high-quality features, including a Schmidt-Pechan prism, 10× magnification, ED multi-coated lenses and matched optics, which deliver exceptional clarity and colour transmission. They also offer a wide field of view, high edge-to-edge sharpness and a close minimum focus, which makes them unique among models in this price range, and come in five colours: green, brown, black, sand and orange.