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 

 

Author interview with Joe Shute: Stowaway

Stowaway book cover showing an old harbour town with boats on the water and four rats climbing up a rope tying a boat to the dock.This tale of rat catchers, crumbling buildings and back alleys delves into the complex linkages between humans and rats, questioning why some animals are accepted while others are cast aside. Joe Shute follows the course of this intricate relationship through history, from those in the trenches to the present day, where an estimated ten million rats live in Britain alone.

Joe Shute author photograph, showing him leaning against a wall in a park with a pair of binoculars around his neck, brown jacket, scarf and hat.Joe Shute is an author and journalist who has a keen passion for the natural world. He is the long-standing author of The Daily Telegraph‘s Saturday ‘Weather Watch’ column, is currently a post-graduate researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University and lives in Sheffield with his wife and pet rats.

We recently had the opportunity to speak to Joe about his book, including his most unexpected lines of enquiry while writing Stowaway, how his own relationship with rats has changed over time, what he plans to do next and more.


What initially drew you to focussing on rats for this book? 

I am particularly attracted to the less fashionable corners of nature writing, I suppose. In particular I have a soft spot for scavengers, of which rats are obviously the greatest of them all. I find it fascinating that wild rats are creatures which have adapted and thrived in our shadow over centuries of human history and yet we still don’t know much about them. I wanted to unpick the rat stories and mythology and folklore attached to rats and see them as an animal in their own right. Because the history of rats is so bound up in our own, I also hoped that focusing on rats would help change my understanding of how humans interact with the world.

Wild Rat climbing up a breezeblock brick in a field.
Wild Rat – Rutland Water by Airwolfhound, via flickr.

What were some of the unexpected lines of enquiry the writing of this book opened for you? 

I knew about the intelligence of rats beforehand but until I started writing the book I hadn’t appreciated the complexity of the inner lives of rats. Numerous studies have shown that rats feel empathy, regret, possess the power of imagination and even enjoy dancing. I also hadn’t appreciated until writing the book how little is known about rats in the wild. Despite being such a familiar animal, we really have little idea about the size of rat populations or exactly where and how they live in cities. Also, I hadn’t fully appreciated just how clever rats are. I visited a project in Tanzania where rats are taught to detect landmines. In the US, scientists have even taught rats how to drive cars. 

Rats have pretty bad PR and this book does an illuminating and erudite job of portraying them with a nuanced and sympathetic appreciation. Why is it important that we scrutinise our relationship with rats?

It’s important to redress our relationship with rats because I believe we are entering a new era of history alongside them. The 20th century was marked by a ‘war on the rat’ with countries committing huge resources to eradicate populations with mostly limited success. This has also had a terrible impact on the natural world, with toxic rodenticides poisoning animals throughout the food chain. This is now changing and various cities such as Paris and Amsterdam are asking whether we might be able to better co-exist with rats. In the UK and elsewhere greater restrictions are also being placed on the indiscriminate use of rodenticides. There are certainly settings where rats are destructive and cause great harm, for example in important seabird colonies where they can devastate nesting populations or indeed when living in someone’s house. But why should they not share our parks and gardens with us?

Wild rat photographed in amongst long grass and damp leaves.
Wild Rat by Airwolfhound, via flickr.

What are some ways in which rats, and our misconceptions of them, hold mirror up to our own behaviours?

I argue in the book that rats thrive where humanity has failed. Industrial farming, where wildness and natural predators have been lost and monoculture of crops exist, provide the ideal conditions for rats. Similarly in urban areas rats flourish among poor sanitation and low quality housing stock and lots of litter. War, waste and a devastated natural environment are all places where you will find rats. If we address these very human problems and behaviours then rat populations will automatically be kept more in check.

What are your hopes for what rat appreciation can offer us? 

I think an appreciation of rats can offer all of us a different perspective on how we interact with nature. When you look at a rat out foraging for food and put aside the cultural baggage attached to it, you see a supremely adaptable creature that can also be very cute! 

Joe Shute with his brown rat on his shoulder.

How has your own relationship with rats changed throughout the process of researching and writing this book? 

I started writing this book as someone with an innate fear of rats. Once I started interrogating this, however, I came to realise that so much of this is cultural – the books I read as a child and urban myths about rats which we all grow up with. To conquer my fears I adopted pet rats, Molly and Ermintrude, who revealed to me so much about the inner lives of rats and are the little beating hearts of my book. So much so in fact that I dedicate Stowaway to them. 

Finally, are you currently working on any other projects that you can tell us about? 

I am currently based at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Centre for Place Writing where I am undertaking a research project on rivers specifically a lost urban river called the Irk in Manchester. I am doing a lot of work with communities, running writing workshops to connect people to the river and the urban flora and fauna which flourishes there. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of rats along the Irk, but Kingfishers, Dippers and Grey Wagtails too. It is exactly the sort of contested and overlooked environment rich in human history which I love writing about and where I always feel most inspired.


Stowaway book cover showing an old harbour town with boats on the water and four rats climbing up a rope tying a boat to the dock.

Stowaway has been published by Bloomsbury and is available via our online bookstore.

Author Interview with Jenny Macpherson: Stoats, Weasels, Martens & Polecats 

Stoats, Weasels, Martens and Polecats book cover showing an orange, white and purple lino print of a two stoats on a rock within ferns.The latest volume in the New Naturalist series, Stoats, Weasels, Martens & Polecats focuses on the four species of ‘small mustelids’ – highly specialised predators and ubiquitous assassins, some of which were once hunted to near-extinction. This delightfully rich text details their physiology, distribution, daily lives, significance in UK history and folklore, while also intertwining the authors own experiences working at the forefront of mustelid conservation across England and Wales.

Jenny MacPherson portrait, wearing a yellow knitted hat and a thick winter coat with the hood up.

Jenny MacPherson managed the Pine Marten Reintroduction Project for many years before taking over as the Principle Scientist at The Vincent Wildlife Trust. She has a longstanding background in zoology and research, holds an MSc in Conservation at the University College London and a PhD from Royal Holloway.

Jenny recently took the time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about the book, including how she first became interested in mustelids, how she thinks these animals will fare in relation to the current climate and environmental challenges and more.


Can you tell us a little about your background and what first interested you in mustelids? 

I studied zoology at university as a mature student, having worked as a theatre costume assistant in London when I left school. Actually, my first experience of mustelids was the rather unflattering portrayal of the Stoats and Weasels in the National Theatre production of The Wind in the Willows that I worked on, back in 1990! – I was responsible for getting Otter into his costume, a 1920s style knitted bathing suit. Then, as an undergraduate at Royal Holloway University, I planned my dissertation project on Pine Martens, having been captivated by them on holidays in Scotland, where it was such a rare treat to see them. Since then, mustelids, and especially Pine Martens, have been a major interest of mine. 

Stoat stood on a log.
Stoat by Andy Morffew, via flickr.

What are the challenges of studying this group?  

It is very difficult to study elusive, nocturnal animals that live at low density and are patchily distributed. It certainly tests our ingenuity. Thankfully some of the rapid advances in technology are helping, as I describe in the book. 

How do you think small mustelids in the UK will fare in the face of climate and environmental change? 

It is difficult to predict and it will likely vary between species. Pine Martens might ultimately benefit from increases in afforestation for carbon storage, but in the meantime existing forests are coming under multiple pressures from recreation, timber harvesting and emerging plant diseases. The impacts of environmental change on prey populations shouldn’t be underestimated either. Some long-term studies have already shown declines in the abundance and diversity of small mammal communities linked to climate change, which is of concern for all of our native carnivores. 

Weasel stood with its front paws on a rock in some long grass.
Weasel by Alan Shearman, via flickr.

Historical opinions held by some across the UK favour culling of mustelids. For instance, Pine Martens in Scotland are at risk of predator-control trapping due to a perceived risk to livestock and game birds. What can we do to challenge these long-held, traditional ways of thinking in relation to UK predators? 

We need to raise greater awareness of natural processes, including predation. Predators have a number of important functions and play a key role in supporting our ecosystems. In Britain, these have been out of balance for centuries as a result of human intervention and we have become used to ‘controlling’ any animals that cause us an inconvenience, rather than working together to find practicable ways of living alongside predators. 

Pine Marten stood on a broken Silver Birch log.
Pine Marten by Caroline Legg, via flickr.

Citizen science projects are a great way for people outside of the field to get involved with conservation research. Are there any resources where the public can submit sightings? And how can citizen science benefit the conservation of this group? 

Citizen scientists and volunteers are crucial to conservation research and we have a long history of their involvement in Britain. Vincent Wildlife Trust collect sightings and other records of Pine Martens and are currently also carrying out a two-year national survey of Polecats. More information can be found on the website at www.vwt.org.uk. The collective effort of citizen scientists makes it possible to gather huge amounts of information over large areas and time frames, which helps to focus conservation efforts where they are most needed for these species. 

Are you working on any other projects you would like to share with us? Can we expect more books from you in the future? 

I am currently working on a number of projects in my role at Vincent Wildlife Trust, including a feasibility study for reintroducing European Mink to the southern Carpathians in Romania, and I have just started writing another book. 


Stoats, Weasels, Martens and Polecats book cover showing an orange, white and purple lino print of a two stoats on a rock within ferns.

Stoats, Weasels, Martens & Polecats is available to pre-order from our online bookstore.

Author Q&A with David Wege: Mammal Tracks of Europe

Author David Wege holding a feather for the camera
Author David Wege via Davidwegenature.uk

Passionate naturalist, author and illustrator David Wege has led an exciting 30-year career in international bird conservation. Now sharing the joy of tracking through teaching, he aims to encourage others to deepen their connection with the world around us.  

For his latest work, he has turned his attention to mammals and has created Mammal Tracks of Europe. After rediscovering his passion for tracking, David hopes to inspire others to engage with the art through his latest work. This book includes the tracks of 72 European mammals, with detailed drawings and portraits of each species.  

We recently had the chance to chat with David about how he first became interested in tracking, why he included Homo sapiens in his new mammal tracks field guide, what he’s currently working on and more.


This unique field guide features a broad selection of European mammals. What criteria did you use when choosing which species to include? 

I set out with the intention of creating a mammal tracks guide that anyone could take out into the field, anywhere in Europe, and identify the tracks they were looking at. This meant including all of Europe’s larger terrestrial mammals, including the Arctic species from Scandinavia (such as Wolverine, Arctic Fox and Muskox), and the species that have ranges just into the Mediterranean countries (like Crested Porcupine and Egyptian Mongoose). So, all larger European mammals that you are likely to find tracks of are featured. Even the domesticated species that, as trackers, we often find the tracks of such as cats, dogs, cows, sheep and Alpacas! The small mammals (such as the mice, voles and shrews) are not covered quite as well, but all species for which we have track photos are included. The end result, is a book with the tracks and trails of an incredible 72 European mammal species. 

Creating a book that anyone can use meant making it accessible to people right across Europe. So, each species is represented by a small portrait of the animal; is identified by its scientific name; and its common name is given in eight European languages. As well as helping people navigate the book quickly, I think the species portraits make sure that we keep the connection between tracks and the animal that made them. 

Tracking is increasing in popularity across Europe and is being used more and more as we rewild areas and reintroduce species in the region. My hope is that this guide will help encourage more people to connect with mammal tracks and engage with the conservation movement, wherever they are. 

Castor fiber page from european mammal tracks, showing illustrations of footprints and a portrait of a beaver

Why did you choose to include Homo sapiens in the field guide, and why were these tracks presented first? 

Humans are part of nature. We’re mammals just like every other mammal in the book, so presenting human in exactly the same way as our mammalian cousins – as Homo sapiens, a species that also makes tracks – seemed important. Connecting with nature starts with us recognising our place within it, so human on Page 1 is a nod to our place as equals among other animal beings. There’s a practical aspect to this too. As a teacher passing on tracking knowledge to others, using our human hands and feet as a reference point for where toe pads, nails, palm pads, heels, carpal pads etc. are, is a great way for people to learn and relate to the track morphology of other mammalian beings. Human hands and feet (and the tracks they create) are a wonderful baseline against which we can start comparing the tracks of other species. 

Instead of written descriptions, the field guide uses drawings as a primary aid to identification. What challenges did you face in illustrating the guide? 

The guide really does have very little text and relies on drawings to do the talking – to be a graphic reference when you’re out in the field. I wanted to create precise representations of tracks for each species – to let the illustrations communicate all that was needed in a true to be used in the field field guide. A noble desire, and easily said, but there really are many challenges. The first of which arises from the fact that no two tracks in the mud, sand, clay or snow are the same, so which one is best to illustrate? To overcome this, I traced (electronically, on a tablet) as many track photos as possible to build up (as near as possible) a perfect average. This hopefully compensates for the vagaries of different substrates. Drawing from track photos means that those images need to be good too! They have to be taken from directly above, with not too much shadow, and with a scale or ruler in the photo. When you start drawing from photos it really makes you appreciate which are good (and useful/usable) and which are not. Once I had my good track photos, I started drawing trying to keep strictly to what I was seeing in the tracks. This has hopefully resulted in illustrations that allow people to pick out the identification features that are most noticeable to them. 

Another challenge is that some of the species I’ve illustrated are rare, or from parts of Europe I have not been tracking, so I have had to rely on track photos shared generously by other trackers. It is definitely harder to illustrate a track that you’ve never seen in the field yourself – it’s difficult to get a feel for the essence of it, but I think I’ve managed to create good representations of tracks for all the mammals. 

Illustration of a wolf footprint from mammal tracks of europe

Where did your initial interest in animal tracking come from, and how did you begin your journey into this field of study? 

I was totally hooked on tracking as a child when my parents gave me a book  Nature Detective by Hugh Faulkus. However, without a tracking mentor, I actively pursued my other passion of birds and birdwatching – a passion that I still have and that led me to a successful career in bird conservation with BirdLife International. Then, about ten years ago, I chanced upon a tracking mentor in John Rhyder (author of Track and Sign, and one of Europe’s foremost trackers), and have been learning from him and teaching with him ever since. We have just finished a book together titled Bird Tracks: a field guide to British species. Tracking just seems like a natural component of being in nature for me. Wandering in nature means intuitively noticing who was there, doing what and when, which birds are calling or singing, what plants are emerging or flowering (and so much more). Reading the tracks is just a part of this awareness, although I’m still learning how to balance an awareness of tracks on the ground with noticing birds up in the trees! 

What will be next for you? Are there any plans for more tracking guides? 

One of the many wonders of tracking (by which I mean reading and interpreting the tracks and signs that animals leave on the landscape) is that there is always more to learn. Animals constantly surprise and we’re often discovering new behaviours revealed in tracks and signs. I’m still learning but I also have the privilege of teaching the art and science of tracking to others. So, I will be spreading the tracking joy, with my book in hand, to people who can hopefully then use the skill to connect to nature, or apply their tracking skills to help monitor, conserve and restore wildlife. This book was designed as a resource for people across Europe, but I would like to see my track and trail illustrations used for local or national field guides that might then be accessible to a wider audience. Anything to help encourage nature connection through tracking. 

Front cover of Mammal Tracks of Europe. Shows illustrations of a fox, moose, bear and pine marten.

Mammal Tracks of Europe: A Field Guide to The Tracks and Trails of European Mammals is available on our online bookstore here.

 

The biodegradable dormouse tube trial

Hazel Dormouse by Frank Vassen via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
The dormouse nest tube problem

At NHBS, the environmental impact of our products, both in terms of their manufacture and eventual disposal, is at the heart of our manufacturing business. Of equal importance is the practicality of their design and how fit for purpose they are for their users. With this in mind, we are always looking for ways to both design new and improve existing products based on current research and feedback from our customers.

Last year, we began to apply this thinking to our dormouse nest tubes. We had some concerns about any tubes that might be left behind at survey sites, thus polluting woodlands with unwanted plastic. We were also thinking ahead to the disposal of tubes that, following years of use outside, are no longer fit for purpose and which must then be thrown away.

With this in mind, our manufacturing team began developing an alternative, biodegradable version of our dormouse nest tubes.

The current plastic dormouse nest tube
A new environmentally friendly design

Dormouse tubes consist of a plastic sleeve into which slides a wooden tray that also serves to seal one end when in place. These tubes create a dark and narrow enclosure that is ideal for dormice to build their nests. By strapping a number of these tubes to horizontal branches in a suitable woodland, they can be used to determine the presence of dormice by periodically inspecting them for evidence of nests and/or inhabitants. As this is a standard survey technique within the UK, our new, environmentally friendly dormouse tubes would need to be able to be used in the same way.

Our new design would use the same wooden inserts in combination with a modified sleeve constructed from Earthboard. Earthboard is a plastic-free biodegradable material, often used to make tree guards. It is coated with a non-toxic water repellent coating which makes it suitable for use outside, lasting for up to two years before decomposing naturally. Critically, being plastic-free, Earthboard does not shed microplastics into the environment.

Its relatively slow breakdown means that Earthboard would be ideal for our purposes. It would last for more than a single survey season in the field and, if accidentally left outside, would decompose naturally over time. Any tubes that fell to the ground would take around 16-20 weeks to break down and, at the end of the season, they could be recycled in the same way as cardboard (although they are not suitable for home composting due to their relatively slow rate of natural decomposition).

In 2023, our manufacturing team produced a number of Earthboard sleeves that were compatible with our existing wooden inserts. These were sent to several of our customers and associates who kindly agreed to undertake some field tests during the 2023 survey season.

Initial field tests

At the end of the dormouse survey season, our field testers helpfully provided us with lots of feedback. Unfortunately, not all of it was good. While most were broadly positive about the intention of the product, there were some significant problems.

The most serious of these was that, after a short amount of time in the field, deterioration by the elements meant that the tube was no longer a good fit for the wooden insert. The top of the plastic tube became curved, thus creating a space into which light, draughts and moisture could enter, making the tubes much less desirable to dormice as a nesting location. Similarly, the relatively pale colour of the Earthboard meant that the interior was not as dark as that of the original plastic tubes, again making it less attractive to dormice.

After a period in the field the Earthboard tube proved a poor fit for the wooden insert and allowed light and draughts to enter the nesting space.

A further concern related to how dormouse tubes are generally used. It is typical for ecologists to collect all of their tubes at the end of the survey season and re-use them in subsequent years. It is unusual for tubes to be left in the field, unless they cannot be located for any reason. Equally, there is a cost factor involved. Although Earthboard is suitable for recycling with cardboard via kerbside waste collections, which makes their disposal preferable to traditional plastic tubes, the need to purchase new sleeves at the beginning of each season isn’t an attractive option for most ecologists.

So, what next?

Due to the lack of positive feedback, along with concerns about the practicalities and economics of these biodegradable dormouse tubes, we have decided not to continue with their development. Despite the fact that this particular project didn’t ultimately lead anywhere, however, we are incredibly proud of our continuing endeavours to improve our products and make sure they are as user friendly and environmentally responsible as possible.

We would like to thank everyone that was involved in field testing this product and taking the time to provide us with such valuable feedback. It is only through constant communication and cooperation with our valued customers that we can continue to design, manufacture and provide such high-quality products and support conservationists worldwide.

Q&A with Matt Larsen-Daw and Alana Scott: Celebrating 70 years of the Mammal Society

The Mammal Society, founded in 1954, is a UK charity formed to support evidence-based mammal conservation in Britain and Ireland. The Mammal Society is involved in promoting and enhancing conservation initiatives working to restore mammals and their habitats, with the overall mission of securing thriving populations of native species.   

The Mammal Society will be celebrating their 70th anniversary in 2024, which will be the focus of this year’s annual mammal conference. The conference will focus on the past challenges and successes of mammal conservation, and discuss opportunities for future work.  

Matt Larsen-Daw is the CEO of the Mammal Society. Having worked with WWF for some time leading education programmes, Matt is now working with the local mammal groups at the base of the Society’s work. Alana Scott works as communications officer for the Society, with a strong history in conservation biology and ecology. She also has significant achievements in the reintroduction of Water Voles in southern Cornwall.  

In anticipation of the upcoming National Mammal Week (22nd 28th April), we recently had the opportunity to talk with Matt and Alana about the successes of The Mammal Society, their upcoming 70th anniversary and goals for the future. 

Small dormouse resting on a branch in front of leaves.
National Mammal Week is an annual event encouraging awareness and conservation of mammals. Image by The Mammal Society.

Firstly, could you give us a brief insight into how The Mammal Society came into existence back in 1954? 

Seventy years ago, in 1954, The Mammal Society was formed under the name of The Mammal Society of the British Isles (TMSBI), following a meeting of prominent zoologists, naturalists and the Zoological Society of London. The aim was to link amateurs and professionals in promoting the study of mammals, and by doing so to power conservation of mammals at a time when an alarming decline in the populations of several species was already being observed. 

Three years later the society started to deliver on its remit when it published its first book – A Field Guide to British Deer. Perhaps some well-thumbed 1st editions of this vintage text are still sitting on shelves? More likely readers may have one of the beautifully illustrated 4th edition copies of this handbook, published to coincide with another significant anniversary – the 60th year of the British Deer Society – in 2023. The British Deer Society is one of several organisations (including the Bat Conservation Trust and SeaWatch) that started their lives as subgroups within The Mammal Society, until their objectives became sufficiently ambitious and broad in scope to warrant a separate charity. This highlights one of the key roles that The Mammal Society has played over the past seven decades. By acting as a lightning rod for discussion and research around the big issues in mammal science and conservation, the Society has convened experts and enthusiasts to foster collaboration and initiate vital projects at all levels of mammal conservation. From collaborative research projects to species-focused organisations and grassroots local groups, the work of the Society has helped shape the mammal conservation sector we see today.  

What do you think has been the key to the enduring success of The Mammal Society? 

A key factor in the ongoing success of The Mammal Society is the community of mammal specialists and nature enthusiasts that has formed around it in the form of our members and local groups network. The staff team at the Society has never been big – in fact we are often assumed to be much bigger than we are, due to our vibrant social channels and the large influence we have on policy and practice. Our Council of Trustees, our Committees, and our ever-growing community of local mammal champions are just as important in the achievement of our aims. We are nothing without our members, and we hope that we give plenty back to those who join us in our mission to support and protect British mammals. Members receive our acclaimed seasonal magazine Mammal News, receive substantial discounts on our trainings and events, and have the opportunity to influence the priorities and projects of the Society. Why not join, or gift membership, today?!  

At the hub of this thriving community of volunteers and supporters, the staff team arranges forums, events, training, campaigns and research projects that channel the huge energy and expertise in the wider community, while ultimately strengthening and energising that same community. 

Our small size has allowed us to be agile and respond to urgent challenges quickly and efficiently – such as the discovery of the non-native Greater White-toothed Shrews in Britain in 2022. It also means our overheads as a charity are low – ensuring that we can put every penny of membership fees and donations to good use in our work to ensure a bright future for mammals. 

A group of people smiling in a field with a wheelbarrow.
ARK (Action for the River Kennet) participants of a Harvest Mouse Survey, 2023.

The world has changed a lot in the last 70 years. Have the key purposes and goals of the charity evolved during this time to adapt to this changing world, or have they broadly remained the same? 

Conservation science is powerless without first being able to answer the questions ‘what to conserve?’ and ‘where to conserve?’; to do this we need to know, for each species, how large the population is, where it is (and was) distributed, and its status, threats and requirements. This science is exactly what The Mammal Society has been promoting since its inception, seeking to ensure that whatever the approach needed, it is undertaken in the right way – informed by science and data. 

This central remit has certainly not changed. However, the role of The Mammal Society in the conservation sector was a hot topic of discussion in the first few decades. In 1963, a resolution was passed at a meeting that the Society should be ‘a scientific body to which those in authority can turn for factual information about mammals and mammal biology’, upon which to base a judgement of the conflicting claims of different champions. To be accepted as such a body, the Society should not itself become involved in any way with […] controversial matters. In other words, The Mammal Society should gather and present scientific facts but not campaign for any particular action to be taken. This perspective shifted within ten years, with members wanting the Society to be prepared to call for action where it was scientifically justified. Nowadays we certainly consider ourselves to have a key role not only in establishing scientific evidence, but also in ensuring it is seen, understood and acted upon to bring positive outcomes for mammals. Communicating the science and advocating for its application are as important as the science itself if we want change. 

The other facet of our work that has become more important in recent years is communicating the importance and wonder of mammals to public audiences, in order to build public support for mammal conservation and encourage more engagement with life sciences – especially among younger people and communities currently under-represented in conservation. This objective is part of our remit to strengthen and energise the conservation sector. For example, our annual Mammal Photographer of the Year competition allows us to spotlight photographers who have captured beautiful and surprising images of mammals in the wild and inspire others to share in their wonder and excitement at spotting our elusive wild neighbours going about their everyday lives.  

In 1995, The Mammal Society entered a new phase when it established a network of local groups that could monitor the state of mammals in their area and respond to local issues while playing a key role in contributing to a better national picture of mammal populations. Through this process of evolution, The Mammal Society moved from connecting amateurs to professionals in mammal conservation, to providing anyone concerned about the decline of mammals with ways to get involved and directly help tackle the key issues. 

Some of these original groups are still going strong, and others have joined in the nearly 30 years since then. Led by volunteers, these groups provide opportunities for nature-lovers from all walks of life in their community to support citizen science activities that provide essential data and insight to inform mammal research, conservation practice and landscape management policy. 

Now we have more than 30 local mammal groups in the network, and their contribution to projects such as the Mammal Atlas, the Harvest Mouse Survey and many other projects cannot be under-estimated – as well as the profound impact many have had on mammal populations locally through their targeted efforts. The Mammal Society have sought to guide and support these groups over the years, but we feel there is much more we could do. 

Our new Local Mammal Groups Strategy (reflected in our new Local Groups Handbook) sets out how we intend to invest in growing, strengthening and diversifying the community of local mammal champions that participate in mammal conservation at the grassroots level through the local groups network. 

Red squirrel peeking out from behind a Silver Birch tree on the right and directly looking at a Bumblebee flying towards the tree.
The Squirrel and the Bee. Image by Garry Watson, winner of the Mammal Photographer of the Year competition, 2024.

Biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are key issues for everyone involved in conservation at present. What are your main goals for the coming years and decades?

Seventy years on, the challenges that need to be overcome to ensure a bright future for wildlife and people are just as daunting. This means that over the decades to come, our role as convener and mobiliser in the world of mammal conservation will be more important than ever. There is no doubt that reversing the loss of nature will require work from everyone, and the more joined-up those efforts are, the more positive the impact for wildlife and people. 

As we move into our eighth decade, we continue to do everything we can to foster collaboration and inclusion in mammal conservation. We aim to bring the scientific insight and expertise of our committees, members, council and staff to strengthen and support any initiatives that can help address the threats faced by our native mammals. As an active member of Wildlife & Countryside Link, we are already adding our voice to those of varied stakeholders across the nature sector to call for urgent action to address issues and redress shortcomings in policy and practice. Via European Mammal Conservation Europe, we have strengthened joint challenges on issues such as the protected status of wolves in the EU. We are active contributors to the RSPB-led UK State of Nature Report, and members of coalitions and steering groups on various species recovery strategies. We continue to engage with government to ensure that policy and priorities are informed by science. 

Our commitment to ensuring that everyone understands the importance of mammals, and can play a role in monitoring and protecting mammals, is reflected in our reinvigorated approach to supporting local groups – including an equipment loan scheme, free training for local groups, and an ambitious plan to see at least three new groups in currently under-represented urban areas by 2025. Alongside this our new school programme launches this year, creating opportunities for young people to explore and support mammals, and prioritising schools in areas of deprivation and serving communities under-represented in conservation. 

 

A group of children sat at a school desk dissecting owl pellets.
Owl pellet dissection as part of the new school programme.

Seventy years as a successful charity is an incredible achievement, not to mention the research, support and training you have undertaken and provided during this time. How are you marking and celebrating this important milestone? 

We’re spending 2024 looking back, and looking forward. We want to celebrate what’s been achieved over the past 70 years but also to take the opportunity to look at the challenges ahead and how we can all play a role in meeting them. 

To help us highlight this significant milestone, talented illustrator Silvie Tonellotto has designed our beautiful 70th anniversary badge, which will feature on communications throughout 2024. You can see more of her work on Instagram (@silvietonelottodesigns). 

An illustrated dormouse sat inside the number 70.
The 70th anniversary badge, designed by Silvie Tonellotto.

One of the key things we are focusing on is celebrating the people whose actions are key to ensuring a bright future for mammals, and especially to show the rich diversity of people and variety of roles people can play in supporting mammal conservation. We have therefore marked this 70th year with the launch of a new awards scheme – Mammal Champions. NHBS generously supported the prizes for the 2024 awards, and we’re delighted to have been able to shine a spotlight on some incredible volunteers, campaigners and thought leaders. 

National Mammal Week (celebrated in the autumn in previous years, but now moving to a new home in the spring) is 22nd to 28th April 2024. We’ll be celebrating the wonderful individuals shortlisted for Mammal Champions Awards, while also providing loads of opportunities for anyone in Britain and Ireland to find ways to become mammal champions in their own lives and communities. 

Learn more and get involved through The Mammal Society website.   

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Author Q&A with Chantal Lyons: Groundbreakers

Groundbreakers jacket showing a wild boar drawing on top of a green background.Big, messy and mysterious – crossing paths with a Wild Boar can conjure fear and joy in equal measure. In Groundbreakers, Chantal Lyons gets up close and personal with this complex and intelligent species in the Forest of Dean, and investigates the people across Britain and beyond who celebrate the presence of these animals – or want them gone. From Toulouse and Barcelona where they are growing in number and boldness, to the woods of Kent and Sussex where they are fading away, to Inverness-shire where rewilders welcome them, join Chantal on a journey of discovery as she reveals what it might take for us to coexist with the magnificent Wild Boar. 

Chantal Lyons, author or Groundbreakers, stood against a tree.Chantal Lyons is a naturalist, writer and science communicator. Having grown up in the tidy countryside of Kent, her encounters with the growing rewilding movement opened her eyes to the potential for restoring nature in Britain, and inspired her to study the relations between people and Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean. She currently lives in Cheltenham, never too far from the boar. 

Chantal recently took time out of her busy schedule to tell us about her first experience with a Wild Boar, her hopes and fears for the future of their populations in Britain, and more.


First of all, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to writing a book about Wild Boar in Britain? 

Up until my mid-twenties I spent all my writing time churning out unpublishable fantasy and sci-fi novels, alongside a zig-zagging career in the charity sector. The journey to Groundbreakers was perhaps a ponderous one – it started when I went to the Forest of Dean in summer 2014 to research a Masters dissertation in environmental social science. The Forest of Dean was, and still is, one of the few places in the country where Wild Boar have returned since their extirpation from Britain around 700 years ago. I wanted to find out from local residents what it was like to suddenly find yourself living alongside a big, wild, and utterly unfamiliar creature. What I discovered from those interviews astounded me, and I was sure that some established nature writer would soon publish a book about the return of boar to Britain and what this meant for us. No one did. After seven years, I decided to send off a proposal to a publisher who I’d encountered on Twitter, and it snowballed from there. 

Could you tell us about your first real life experience with a Wild Boar? 

It was a long time in coming! While I was in the Forest of Dean doing the Masters research, I used every spare moment to explore the woods on my own, often following locals’ leads. It always came to nothing. The boar seem to be like cats – you seem to be more likely to meet them the less you want to. But eventually, at the tail end of summer, I went to a spot where I’d heard from someone that a sounder (a family group of boar, which is always led by a matriarch) had been foraging each evening. I heard them softly calling to each other, then there was a rustling in the bracken, and an adult stepped out onto the path to get a look at me. We stared at each other for about two seconds, she gave a belching alarm call, and then she vanished with her family.  

Wild boar and 7 piglets lead down on a rocky bank in the Yorkshire Dales.
Wild boar at Bolton Castle in Yorkshire Dales National Park, by HarshLight via flickr.

I appreciated the ways in which you speak about rewilding, in particular the importance of nuance and accepting the unknown. Do you think that uncertainties about the best way to undergo reintroduction projects and their expected outcomes are a significant hindrance to their implementation? 

I have heard many a time from rewilding practitioners that the inherent uncertainties in rewilding can make it especially challenging to gain funding, given that projects aimed at restoring nature have traditionally been expected to be able to set clear targets and end-goals. But beyond practicalities like money, I think the bigger challenge is the attitude that reintroducing species for rewilding purposes is too big an unknown, and therefore too big a risk. Of course we should aim to conduct as much scientific research and gather as much knowledge as possible, but we are running out of time to reverse the haemorrhaging of our biodiversity in Britain and globally. To me, it beggars belief that we seem quite happy to continue doing all kinds of things that we know are massively damaging the environment, but reintroducing species? Why, that’s a step too far! 

Close up image of two wild boar walking through mud with their snouts and feet covered in wet mud.
Wild boar, by Marieke IJsendoorn-Kuijpers, via flickr.

One part of the book that particularly resonated with me was in ‘The Risks of Being Alive’ where you speak about how, for most modern humans, ‘nothing matters more in life than eliminating all risk to it – even at the cost of happiness’. What do you think it would take for humans to accept more wildness into their lives? 

Maybe it’s a cliché to say this, but I think it hugely helps to engage children with nature from a young age, and to continue doing so as they grow up. That of course means ensuring that everyone can access nature. 

Beyond that, the question of how to convince people to accept more wildness is an incredibly tricky one, especially in a place like Britain which suffers so badly from ‘ecological tidiness disorder’ (as Benedict Macdonald puts it in Rebirding). The problem is that most of us have not made the connection between our tidy sterilised surroundings and the loss of nature. There is a lack of understanding that the majestically bare plains of Dartmoor or our rolling green fields mean an absence of life; and that you need all manner of species, including big ones, to ensure healthy ecosystems. I didn’t realise this for years. But once you know, you can’t stop wanting to bang the drum. 

What are your biggest hopes and worst fears for the future of Wild Boar populations in Britain? 

I want the planned, country-wide reintroduction of Wild Boar to become accepted both politically and societally. In the meantime, I hope that the few boar we do have are allowed to thrive. That means more oversight of people carrying out legal shooting of them on their land, and – in the case of the Forest of Dean population – better censusing methods to ensure they are not over-culled (though some culling will always be needed, as the boar currently lack other predators). 

What am I most afraid of? That very soon, a disease called African Swine Fever (ASF) which burns through pig populations like wildfire will make its way into Britain. Since Brexit, border controls on pork imports have been so lax that experts think it’s only a matter of time before ASF reaches us. Forestry England is primed to wipe out every last boar in the Forest of Dean if the disease is ever detected in the population. And once they’re gone, it seems very unlikely that they would ever be reintroduced (legally or illegally) again. We will miss a miraculous chance to kickstart the landscape-scale restoration of nature in Britain.  

Wild Boar piglets running across the road in a national park park with the sun out.
Wild Boar Sus Scrofa, by Björn, via flickr.

Finally, what is occupying your time at the moment? Are there plans for further books in the pipeline? 

I work full-time as a science communicator, which does narrow my research and writing windows! But I am currently working on a proposal for book number two. It’s intended to be something of an evolution of Groundbreakers, picking up a thread that often emerged during my research interviews with people, but which I couldn’t possibly have fitted into this first book…  


Groundbreakers book jacket showing a wild boar drawing on a faded green background with yellow test and a signed copy bubble in blue.Groundbreakers is available from our online bookstore.

 

Author Q&A with Derek Gow: Hunt for the Shadow Wolf

Renowned rewilder Derek Gow has a dream: that one day we will see the return of the wolf to Britain. As Derek worked to reintroduce the beaver, he began to hear stories of the wolf. With increasing curiosity, Derek started to piece together fragments of information, stories and artefacts to reveal a shadowy creature that first walked proud through these lands and then was hunted to extinction as coexistence turned to fear, hatred and domination.

With bitingly funny but also tender stories, Hunt for the Shadow Wolf is Derek’s quest to uncover the true nature of this creature because, as we seek to heal our landscape, we must reconcile our relationship with it. Before we can even begin to bring the wolf back, we need to understand it.

Derek recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about Hunt for the Shadow Wolf, including how his fascination with the wolf began, what role it could play in Britain’s landscape and more.


As well as being packed with personal stories and fascinating snippets of wolf biology and behaviour, Hunt for the Shadow Wolf is an incredibly well-researched history of the wolf, told through the myths and legends that abound throughout our lands. How and when did your fascination with the wolf and its history in Britain begin? 

Hunt for the Shadow Wolf Chapter 3 sketch. if a wolf baring its teeth in a graveyard.

My personal interest in the wolf story began early. I remember quite clearly my grandmother, who was a slight, erect, sprightly soul, telling both myself and my bored brother on a long car journey to Dundee the story about a place called wolf clyde which was near to where we lived in the Scottish borders at that time where the last wolf in Scotland was killed. It was just nonsense about a woman with children being attacked by the wolf which she brained in response with a pancake griddle, but nevertheless it began a slow smoking interest in the old myths which given the opportunity I was keen to explore further.  

Why do you think that an understanding of the historical culture, myths and legends surrounding a species has relevance to its conservation and role in our ecosystems today? 

A factual understanding of the history of this much maligned species in Britain is very important as the lies we made up in the darkness of our ignorance to try to twist the cultural character of the wolf into one of loathing and repulsion still sway the responses of a phenomenal number of individuals and organisations to this day. Despite the very best of our advanced understandings of what wolves are and what they do, this toxic taint is still bubbling strongly.  

Hunt for the Shadow Wolf Chapter 6 sketch of a wolf baring its teeth at a woman who has a sword in her hand and is trying to protect her sheep from an attack.Even in children’s tales, the wolf invariably represents a character of fear, violence and threat. Do you think these types of stories have a significant role to play in the development of our feelings towards wolves as adults? 

Absolutely as they reflect only the darkness in the minds of the adults who wrote them and by so doing chose to corrupt a bad reputation without thinking into an even darker evil to infect the minds of the young. Nowadays it’s gratifying to see in so many good environmental centres throughout Europe, within the wolves expanding range, more understanding and compassionate explanations about both their history and the reality of living with them.

Britain is in a unique position compared to mainland Europe in that wolves will never be able to repopulate of their own accord. Do you think that a reintroduction project will ever occur, and what are the key challenges that stand in its way? 

I think we should reintroduce the wolf and prepare the way for even more of our lost beasts. Farming has had it all its own way without balance of any sort. If a species gets in our way, we kill it. It’s what we are doing to badgers right now. In the past we inflicted so much heartbreakingly visible cruelty. Now, we destroy on a scale that’s colossal without thinking about the smallest of creatures and those tinier still that inhabit the soil. It’s a viciously unnecessary process.

Eurasischer Wolf sniffing a moss covered rock, taken by C Bruck.
Eurasischer Wolf (Canis Lupus) by C. Brück

What role do you think the wolf could have in healing the landscapes of our currently denuded Britain? 

I think they would both move deer considerably and by doing so disrupt their grazing patterns for the betterment of forest understory regeneration. I think they would make those that keep sheep consider their worth and then, if these animals are of value, protect them better. I think their very presence, wild but unthreatening, would more than that of any other creature enable all of us now living on this island to establish, if we wished to do so, our relationship with the natural world.  

As well as travelling widely to locations where wolves live in the wild, you have also had the incredible experience of hand-rearing wolves in a wildlife centre. What is your most memorable first-hand experience with a wolf or wolf pack? 

Naida, one of my tame cubs, ate my car keys. I only had one set and had to wait for what seemed an eternity for them to pass through her before picking my way through her enormous turds to get them back.

Title page for Hunt for the Shadow Wolf showing a map of Great Britain with different wolf locations labelled across the country.Finally, what is occupying your time this winter? Do you have plans for more books? 

Lots of things. The last of bits of farming feeding my cows. Dog walks and avoiding the rain. Trying to develop a foundation to help us breed even more threatened British species for reintroductions. And books? Well, on long dark evenings I have been researching the intriguing history of the European Bison. not the bits of sadness that brought the species to its knees in the early 20th century, but the complicated individuals who for a time held its future in the palms of their hands. Great characters like the 11th Duke of Bedford, who assembled breeding herds of threatened species on his Woburn estate, and tyrants like Hermann Goering, who used slave labour to create vast parks within which he hunted. It’s an intriguing slant that’s little known but it saved the species for a time when the world for them has become a better place where they can roam in peace, a range that is vast. There might be a book in that!! 


Explore other titles by Derek Gow here.

Author interview with Neil Middleton and Stuart Newson: Sound Identification of Terrestrial Mammals of Britain and Ireland

This groundbreaking book provides the reader with a unique and practical guide to collecting and using acoustic survey data to identify terrestrial mammals. Covering 42 species that can be found in Britain and Ireland, the text includes guidance on survey methods, analysis of sound recordings and details of appropriate software. As well as containing specific spectrogram examples for each species, the book allows the reader access to a downloadable sound library containing more than 250 recordings.

Neil Middleton is a licensed bat worker and trainer and is the owner of BatAbility Courses & Tuition, an organisation that delivers ecology-related skills development to customers throughout the UK and beyond. He has studied bats for over 25 years, with a particular focus on their acoustic behaviour (echolocation and social calls) and is the author of Social Calls of the Bats of Britain and Ireland, Is That a Bat?, and The Effective Ecologist.

Stuart Newson is a Senior Research Ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), where he is involved in survey design and data analysis from national citizen-science surveys. Stuart’s work on bioacoustics has included creating tools to identify European bats, bush-crickets and small mammal species from their ‘calls’. This resulted in the BTO Acoustic Pipeline, which integrates online tools for coordinating fieldworkers, processing recordings, and returning feedback.

Neil and Stuart recently took some time out of their busy schedules to answer some of our questions about their most recent book. In this Q&A we discuss the challenges involved in acoustic monitoring of mammals, the author’s hopes for the future of this area of study, and much more.


You each have a passion for acoustic monitoring – how did you come to be working together on this project?

Before we first met, Stuart was becoming interested in what else is recorded as ‘by-catch’ when you leave out a static bat detector to record bats. He had previously become interested in the sound identification of bush-crickets which are commonly recorded during bat surveys in southern Britain, and thanks to work that Neil was involved with (e.g. the first edition of the book The Social Calls of the Bats of Britain & Ireland), Stuart was becoming increasingly interested in bat social calls. At this time, he realised that small mammals are also quite commonly recorded as ‘by-catch’ during bat surveys, and was starting to appreciate that unless you had a good understanding of bat echolocation and social calls, there was scope for mis-identifying small mammals calls as being produced by bats.

When Neil started working on the book, Is That a Bat? A Guide to Non-Bat Sounds Encountered During Bat Surveys (ITAB), Stuart had already made available some online resources to help bat workers identify bush-crickets, which were able to feed into Neil’s book, and he also had some first recordings of some small mammal recordings that he was able to contribute to ITAB, which were very useful additions to the recordings that Neil had been gathering independently.

At about the same time, Stuart had met Huma Pearce, the third author on this book, and had started to work with her on an ‘edge-of-desk’ project to try and collect sound recordings for every species of small mammal in the UK. The aim was to try and collect many hundreds (ideally thousands) of sound recordings of every small mammal species in Britain and Ireland, which we wanted to build into bat classifiers to be able to assist with automatically identifying small mammals (as well as bush-crickets), when these are recorded as by-catch during bat surveys.

Working with Huma, and then Neil, to collect recordings for small mammals to feed into ITAB, and for Stuart to feed into his classifiers, we were now collecting a lot of recordings of small mammal species. After the publication of ITAB, we had learnt a lot more between us, so we wrote a more detailed guide to the sound identification of small mammals in Britain and Ireland, which was published in British Wildlife. After being approached by Pelagic Publishing, Neil was asked if he could author a book covering all terrestrial mammals in our part of the world. This was a much wider group than the one we had worked on up until that point. Neil agreed to the book idea, but only on the basis that Stuart and Huma would be involved as well. Thankfully both Stuart and Huma were ‘up for it’ and between us we managed to produce the book. I think we would all agree that if any one of us had not been involved, the job would’ve been considerably harder and taken much longer.

There currently exists a huge sound library of vocalisations of bats and cetaceans and their use in monitoring these species is now mainstream. Why do you think that this approach has not, so far, been used for other mammals such as those covered in your book?

We think that the main reason that so little has been done on the sound identification of terrestrial mammals (other than bats), is that for small mammals the call rate is quite low compared with other groups such as bats, and because the vocalisations can look like bat calls. I think until our various pieces of work, they have been largely overlooked. Until relatively recently, bat social calls had also been largely ignored by many bat workers, so there were few possibilities for noticing or identifying small mammal calls via that group. For audible mammal species, such as deer, there are alternative survey methods, such as visual surveys, and combined with this the call rate is again quite low, so without tools to help find these calls within large acoustic datasets it has been challenging to find and identify vocalisations by these species. In addition, before this book there was no resource or reference that people could use to help support the sound identification of audible mammals across the full range of species.

Added to this, we feel that the subject is difficult for many people in the non-bat mammal world to engage with and/or know where to start. Hopefully this book will open people’s eyes (and ears!) to the subject, thus meaning that more people will pay more attention to acoustic identification of these species, which will also mean that, overall, our rate of learning as a community will increase substantially as we begin to find out even more about the subject, including of course things that we didn’t appreciate at time of writing.

As well as providing the information and data required for species identification, do you think that acoustic data have the potential to tell us more about species behaviour, social interactions and population dynamics?

We think that there is huge potential for acoustic data to tell us much more about species behaviour, social interactions and population dynamics. As explored in the book, for some species we are able to relate particular call types to behaviour or status, but we still have a lot to learn for many of the species that are included in the book, in order to be able to understand in what situations particular calls are produced. By writing this book, we hope that this will inspire others to build on our work, and to accelerate an improvement in knowledge.

Which of the British terrestrial mammal species have you found the most challenging to study and why?

It is difficult to give a single answer to this one, but despite each of us having separate thoughts we would all agree on the following.

It was extremely difficult to collect or find existing sound recordings of rabbits and hares, because the call rate is extremely low. Huma (assisted by others) put lots of effort into rabbits, but sadly the results were zero. Separately Stuart tried to collect recordings of moles, by sinking microphones into the ground along mole tunnels, but he had no luck despite several weeks of effort.

Stuart would like to do more work on the sound identification of mustelids, which we feel we do not understand as much as we would like. We would all like to continue with more work on the small mammals, although we would each have different priorities in that respect. Shrews are of particular interest to us all, and Stuart in particular would definitely like to try and collect more sound recordings of Water Shrews.

Researchers have previously observed regional differences in the vocalisations of small birds recorded in various locations around Britain. Did you notice any geographic variations in the sounds produced by the mammal species you studied?

Personally, we haven’t seen much, if any, evidence of geographic variation in the recordings that we have looked at, but there could very well be regional differences. For some species it can be shown that differences occur at the individual level. This being the case, you could perhaps expect to see differences between social groups and, as such, regional and national differences too. At this point in time the amount of data we have is too small and hasn’t been collected with this in mind, and therefore we haven’t gone looking for an answer to this question ourselves.

There are currently several citizen science projects around the UK that the public can submit sightings to (such as those organised by the Mammal Society or apps such as iRecord). Is there currently anywhere that people can submit records resulting from acoustic data? Or somewhere they can submit their recordings in the hopes of building a library of sound files for each species as there is for bats?

Not that we are aware of, in the style that you have suggested by your question. However, if someone has heard (not seen) a species and they are happy that it is a diagnostic record for that species in a particular area, we would see no reason why a citizen science project would not accept the ‘sound’ as a valid record of the species being present at that location at that point in time. The key to this, however, is being confident that what was heard couldn’t be a similar noise made by something completely different – so we urge caution. It should also be remembered that in some cases sound identification may actually be more reliable than a visual record of a distant mammal, or a small mammal irrespective of how close it may be to the observer.

In a slightly different direction to your question, Stuart is best placed to talk about the use of such calls in building classifiers. His main interest in mammals has been to build a large sound library of known species recordings that can be used to build classifiers that can help identify the calls of different species automatically within recordings, with the book being secondary or a by-product of this. He believes that having such tools is essential for helping to find the calls of terrestrial mammals in large acoustic datasets, particularly for species where the call rate is low. The sound identification of all species of small mammals included in the book has been built into the ‘bat’ classifiers that comprise the BTO Acoustic Pipeline. The Acoustic Pipeline also includes specific classifiers for some audible species, including the Edible Dormouse. To the best of Stuart’s knowledge this is the first attempt from anywhere in the world to build classifiers for the sound identification of a complete assemblage of small mammals.

What are the next steps required to progress this research and what are your hopes for the future of this field of study?

There is still a lot to learn about the sound identification of mammals in Britain and Ireland, but there are some species groups on which we know we have done much less work and have less understanding than others. In particular, we think that acoustics could be useful for detecting the presence of mustelids (as we have already demonstrated for mice, rats, voles, shrews and dormice), but we would need to try and collect many hundreds (ideally thousands) of known species recordings, to be able to understand the full range of calls that a species can produce. This information could then also be used to create automated classifiers, thus enabling the possibility of efficient detection of species in this group from within large datasets.

As a longer-term ambition, Stuart is keen to work further on the wider sound identification of European mammals, and to extend the geographic and taxonomic scope of the BTO Acoustic Pipeline. Currently, he is able to identify small mammals in bat recordings from elsewhere in Europe at least to genus, by including similar closely related species from the UK in regional classifiers for other parts of Europe. However, he needs more targeted recording of known species to be carried out in order to be able to assign these identifications to species, and to be able to build classifiers that support the sound identification of mammals more widely across Europe.

Our hopes are that this book inspires others in Europe (and further afield) to work on the sound identification of mammals, and more widely to see the opportunities that understanding acoustics can offer.


Sound Identification of Terrestrial Mammals of Britain & Ireland is published by Pelagic Publishing and is available at nhbs.com.