Its good to recharge the batteries....
It has been great to unwind a bit over the Christmas and New Year break!
The chance to spend some quality time with the family and get away from the constant chatter of social media and the email conveyor belt is easily overlooked. As the self-employed director of my own firm it is a really valued time of year.
However, as an ecologist, it is hard to get away from the wonders of the natural world.
One of the highlights of our Christmas was a few days in Cheshire with family, where we enjoyed some gorgeous crisp winter sunshine.
The hawthorn is a marvellous feature of our hedgerows and scrub and at this time of year is still laden with a good crop of haws—the small, bitter but colourful fruit of the hawthorn bush.
Hawthorn is probably the most common hedgerow species, planted in profusion and providing rich benefits to bird species throughout the autumn and winter months. Our resident thrush species are bolstered by fieldfares and redwings, the winter migrants that are a common sight in the fields around our villages.
Throughout September and October, reports were coming in of sightings of obviously sick or dead hares. This led to a series of articles in the press about the issue and a call for records to be submitted to help understand how widespread the issue might be.
For example the Eastern Daily Press and the Guardian both covered the worrying news.
Research is being led by Dr Diana Bell of the UEA, who has been studying the impacts of diseases on rabbit populations, including myxomatosis and strains of hemorrhagic disease. Dr Bell and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust has asked for people to send photographs of any dead or diseased hare bodies along with the exact location.
We are lucky in East Anglia to be home to a good population of brown hares and the sight of them is commonplace. They are larger than rabbits, with longer back legs and distinctive black tips to their ears. But brown hares have decline by over 80% in the past 100 years, with reasons such as agricultural intensification and persecution being key factors.
The reports of disease is concerning and there is a need to understand what is happening. If you have seen a sick or dead hare, you can help by sending a photograph (including head and bottom!) to Dr Bell at the UEAemail@example.com .
Alternatively feel free to call us on 07496 255050 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like an informal chat about brown hares.
The last couple of months have seen a flurry of reptile surveys on proposed development sites across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.
These surveys have included the use of artificial refuges (a mixture of roofing felt, roofing sheet and carpet tiles) deployed around potential development sites. These are then visited on repeat occasions and inspected for reptiles basking on the top of the refugia or sheltering underneath them. The key to these surveys is to be slow and stealthy in approaching them, as reptiles can vanish in a flash at the slightest movement or swish of clothing.
Ironically, I have seen more reptiles recently on proposed sites where I have been undertaking habitat survey, and recorded reptiles as incidental records. These have included a couple of glimpses of common lizard (perhaps quickest to scamper away) and a few sightings of grass snakes, which although relatively common are my favourite of our common reptile species.
Reptile surveys are often required on potential development site as all reptiles in the UK benefit from legal protection. For the four common species (grass snake, adder, common lizard and slow worm) it is an offence to kill reptiles under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Where a site supports a population, a reptile mitigation strategy can be developed to ensure that reasonable measures are put in place to prevent harm to reptiles and reduce the risk of an offence being committed.
Such mitigation can include the implementation or reasonable avoidance measures (or RAMs) or potentially the translocation of reptiles to a receptor site.
If you would like to know more about when surveys are required, feel free to get in touch via our Contacts page, or email Jon on email@example.com
Grabbing a holiday during a busy ecological survey season can seem a nigh on impossible task at times. But a week away in North Wales with the family has certainly recharged the batteries and has certainly confirmed in my mind the true value of a bit of time away from the day to day joys of running a small business.
We were lucky enough to spend a week or so in a fantastic location on Anglesey and of course there was a bit of time to be spent botanising, birdwatching and hunting for bugs with my two boys.
It is nearly the middle of May already and like all good ecologists, much of my time is spent out 'in the field' undertaking surveys of sites for projects.
This week has seen a particularly varied selection of surveys including:
1. The planning application is still undetermined and is valid through the East Suffolk Planning website using planning reference: DC/18/0745/FUL | Construction of a new chapel on land formerly in agricultural use
2. The "Planning Report" states that no ecological assessment has been made. The full text of section 10.3 of the planning report reads:
No ecological assessment or survey has been made. The site lies in an area which was formerly arable land with no evidence of a more intensive use. It is currently newly planted with trees which form a first phase of the anticipated development. There is a natural pond under construction to the south of the site which also forms part of the wider phased development. The pond is not yet colonised and will be planted through the winter and into the next spring. One may reasonably expect that it will form a habitat after the construction of the Chapel and that no risk to ecology will yet have arisen. The planted area, similarly, is in its early stages and grass is regularly mowed between and around the trees. The prospect is for this environment to provide rich and diverse ecology following the completion of the chapel and the onward growth of the pond and trees. There is a fishpond at Wynney’s farm some 180 meters from the site, but this is populated with ducks and is a poor habitat for Great Crested Newts. (GCN)
There is a recently withdrawn planning application for a back land development at to the rear of Osier house and Reap House off the Saxtead Road to the east of Wynneys Hall, which included an ecological survey and mitigation carried out between 2014 and 2016. This recorded a population of GCN at the Chestnuts and Little Crimbles some 300 meters from the Chapel site. We understand from the report that in conjunction with the housing development mitigation measures have already been taken for this population which appears to be self-contained within that locality, with hibernating sites in the adjacent properties and woodland. We do not expect the population to migrate to the Chapel site across the Wynneys Hall land which, by its present nature, offers little cover.
There is a heavily shaded and overgrown field pond by some 80 meters from the site which, at the time of inspection was bone dry (December2017) . A desk top study assessment using the Amphibian and reptile groups of the UK advice note 5 (2010) gives an estimated score of less than 5 indicating poor suitability for GCN.
1This indicates that there is no risk or need for an ecological report for the chapel site. In this regard we also note that various applications at Wynneys Hall for a Coach House (2016), Orangery (2016) and Pool House (2015) were all granted without the need for an ecological report.
There are many problems with this section of the report and alarm bells would be ringing for any ecological consultant with even the most basic knowledge of surveying for GCN and providing effective mitigation strategies.
Firstly, 'former' arable use indicates a lack of management which can create very good habitat for GCN and the presence of nearby ponds with GCN means that an ecological assessment should be regarded as absolutely essential.
3. These shortcomings have been highlighted in consultation responses from a local ecological consultancy employed by a local resident and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. The ecologist concerned also undertook the previous ecology surveys referred to in the Planning Report - concluding that the local area supported a medium population of GCN, but that the surveys are now out of date. Importantly, the report from The Landscape Partnership states that "...it may be appropriate to defer making a decision on this application until such time as a survey can take place".
So.... to summarise. The application has not been determined and thus there is time for it to be resolved, or deferred/withdrawn. The newts have not scuppered Ed's plans, but a lack of understanding of newt survey requirements for planning purposes and the implications for planning applications has undermined the proposed scheme. There is still time to sort it out!
March is a month of transition in the bird world and this makes it a fascinating time to undertake bird surveys. This morning I was up well before dawn to get to a site to start a breeding bird survey. At first light the birds are active and vocal and this is the best time of day to see what is about - the dawn chorus is a perfect description!
In March, however, we have yet to receive the influx of summer migrants, although a few pioneer records of early arrivals are being logged across the country. Birds such as the willow warbler, swallow and cuckoo are still a few weeks away and for the most part, the breeding activity is focuses on our resident species. This morning, there was a flurry of male dunnocks, robins, great tits and blue tits trying to impress potential mates, generally trying to establish territories and in some cases start nest building.
Our winter migrants are still here and I was pleased to come across a good sized flock of field fare: another few weeks and they will be gone.
Another highlight was a few flocks of goldfinches busily feasting on teasel heads.... Always a joy to behold.
The bird world has been excited at the prospect of a rare visit from a snowy owl this weekend. Unable to head over to the coast to see it at the weekend, it appears to have moved on and has not been seen for a day or two..... In birding circles this makes me a dipper!
The snowy owl spent a couple of says at the excellent North Norfolk reserves of RSPB Titchwell and Snettisham. These are both reserves I spent many happy months over 20 yrs ago as a volunteer warden - acting as a guide in the shop and hides, undertaking bird counts and carrying out practical management work. It is always good to get back to visit and seeing many photos of the snowy owl at these reserves has reminded me a visit is needed - even without a snowy owl it will be worth the trip.
This is intended to host my articles on ecology, news about what I am up to, and general musings or ramblings about things that concern me....