Supplier Interview: Jack Skuse of Ambios Ltd

Jack Skuse of Ambios Ltd
Ambios are an educational charity based a mile or so down the river Dart from NHBS at a tenant farm on the historic Sharpham Estate. They provide conservation education, inspiration and training to a wide range of people at their farm, Lower Sharpham Barton. Over the last few years Ambios and NHBS have worked together on a range of products including the NHBS Kent Bat Box and reptile survey felts. The Lower Sharpham Barton site is managed by Jack Skuse.

Tell us a little about your organisation and how you got started.

Ambios Ltd are a nature conservation training organisation established in 2001. We aim to offer inspirational education, practical action, science and technology training and volunteering opportunities in the UK and EU. In partnership with Robert Owen Communities (ROC), a charity based in South West England supporting adults with learning disabilities, we run a farm on the stunning Sharpham estate outside Totnes, Devon. The aim of Lower Sharpham Farm is to use farming as a way of improving biodiversity, whilst offering people the chance to engage with wildlife and the outdoors – the farm runs as a care farm and base for our residential training activities. In partnership with UK and EU nature conservation organisations people can stay and learn at our farm, or in one of five EU countries including Norway, Hungary and Portugal. The people who engage with our farm (EU trainees, adults with learning disabilities) produce wildlife boxes for sale by NHBS.

What challenges do you face as an organisation working in the ecology/natural history sector?

There are a number of challenges we face, primarily relating to funding. We have historically accessed funding to run training for the next generation of wildlife professionals, as well as engaging and stimulating nature conservation-related provision for disabled people. This funding is proving harder to access, and we are aiming to diversify into a number of areas that generate revenue: training and volunteering placements where the learner pays, or is part subsidised by grant funding; wildlife experiences where learners can stay in our yurts for a number of days and gain employability skills and experience hands-on nature conservation projects, including bumble bee research, bird and badger surveys and practical habitat management; and producing, adding value to, and selling the products of the farm including organic beef, lamb, and eggs along with the wildlife boxes (typically made from wood sourced from the Sharpham Estate!).

What do you consider the most important achievement of your organisation in recent years?

To still be here 15 years later! We are proud of our legacy, and of the number and range of people who have benefited from our training, along with the wide and diverse network we have established here in UK and across EU. The farm tenancy is a leap of faith and grounds us in place and we are proud of the partnership with ROC and of the opportunities created here, and the potential available to us over the coming years.

What is your most memorable wildlife/natural history encounter?

I have seen wildlife around the world, and have strong memories of orca whales in Patagonia, and cobra snakes in Thailand (a close encounter whilst riding a bike). I was lucky enough to work with the Barn Owl Trust here in Devon, radio tracking barn owls whilst they fledged the nest for the first time. This close observation and appreciation of an enigmatic creature that is found here in UK was profound.

Supplier interview: Volker Runkel of ecoObs

Volker Runkel of ecoObs

ecoObs are a small German company at the forefront of full spectrum bat call recording and identification. They produce the Batcorder 3, a highly optimised bat detector (each new microphone arrives with its own calibration factor to ensure that comparisons between units are valid) designed to consistently record bat calls of sufficiently high quality to make auto-identification possible. Calls can then be processed using ecoObs software bcAdmin 3.0, bcAnalyse 2.0 and batIdent. These enable the rapid and accurate identification of common bat species, speeding up the identification process by up to 70% and allowing users to focus more time on rare or interesting bat species. We asked ecoObs co-founder and managing director Volker Runkel to introduce the company.

Tell us a little about your company and how you got started

For my PhD thesis I developed a quite basic and rather well working solution for passive monitoring of bats. Already then I saw that automation in data collection as well as analysis was one of the keys to focus on, instead of all raw analysis work. We quickly realized there is a huge demand for such a solution. We then were lucky and found an engineer who partnered up with us and redesigned the hardware so it was power efficient, small and easy to use. The batcorder system was born.

ecoObs Batcorder 3
ecoObs Batcorder 3

What challenges do you face as a company in the ecology/natural history sector?

The sector is rather small and as a hardware producer we for example often have problems acquiring small quantities of parts. In electro-engineering small companies still require some hundred thousand parts while we ask for a mere thousand. Also the demand for devices is highly seasonal – 90% of orders arrive within a few weeks in spring when the bat season starts. On the other end, we have a very vivid and heterogeneous bat worker scene.

What do you consider the most important achievement of your company in recent years?

I think getting the batcorder and the analysis software out in the wild and thus pushing the whole field of passive monitoring and automated bat call identification to where it is now. When we started in 2004 no one believed it would be ever working, and now a rising number of devices and software exists.

What is your most memorable wildlife/natural history encounter?

Spotting and touching an Echidna in the wild!

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