Baker Consultants Looks Back on the Whirlwind That Was 2023
Last year was nothing short of extraordinary for the team at Baker Consultants, and was marked by ground-breaking initiatives, an amazing few days at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, prestigious recognitions and even a short stint on national news. As we head into 2024, we thought we’d take a moment to reflect on 2023 and some of the amazing things we achieved.
4 Day Working Week
At the beginning of 2023, Baker Consultants implemented a four-day work week trial. The primary objective of the trial was to assess the impact on productivity, employee satisfaction and overall well-being, and whether it could work for an ecological consultancy; where we often burn the midnight oil to conduct time specific surveys. Studies had shown that reduced working hours can enhance focus and productivity, and so we wanted to test this out for ourselves.
The trial proved to be successful as it not only boosted employee morale, but also had no effect on the quality of our work or ability to meet deadlines. With their extra day off, the team routinely enjoyed recreational and social activities: gardening, house hunting, attending shows and festivals, and even catching up with their housework. We also observed that our four-day week helped in attracting some of the best talent in the industry, as a sustainable work-life balance seems to be becoming more and more vital to attracting the right people, especially since the pandemic.
14 Year Anniversary
As Baker Consultants entered its 14th year in business, 2023 was a year full of change for the team; with new starters, hiring our first apprentice, our ecoacoustics research, including jointly-authoring numerous pieces of new ecoacoustic guidelines, and the introduction of our 4-day week trial (to name just a few).
All of these positive changes have helped us to establish ourselves as a modern-day ecology consultancy, which not only has its team’s well-being at front of mind, but is constantly looking to introduce new innovative ways in which we can be more effective in challenging the profession and influencing policy and best practice.
DEFRA’s Farming Innovation Programme, delivered in partnership with Innovate UK, invested £4.5 million last year in innovation projects; studies investigating new solutions that address major on-farm or immediate post farmgate challenges or opportunities. The projects, in the long-term, should benefit farmers, growers and foresters in England so they can increase productivity and sustainability, as well as reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and horticulture.
The grant has seen us embark upon a two-year research project investigating the feasibility of using ecoacoustics for monitoring soil health, which we are carrying out in collaboration with scientists from the University of Warwick. The aim of the project is to develop a system for monitoring the activity of earthworms and soil fauna using bioacoustics. The study will analyse recordings of natural soil sounds at “big data” scales, with the aim of developing ways to process it rapidly to distinguish species or functional groups of animals.
The grant has also enabled us to start developing a soil listening device which can eventually be sold to farmers and land managers, providing them with a time and cost effective way of monitoring their soil health. Their recordings will then be saved to our database, where they can be analysed following one simple rule of thumb: a healthy soil is a noisy soil.
RHS Chelsea Flower Show
RHS Chelsea Flower Show is an iconic event that celebrates horticultural excellence and innovation. Last year, we were pleased to be invited to showcase our ecoacoustic technology at the Royal Entomological Society’s show garden, designed by the talented Tom Massey. The primary objective of their show garden was to shed light on the critical role insects play in our ecosystems, and our listening station helped to expand the conversation beyond plants and insects by delving into the unseen world beneath our feet.
We collected samples from the show garden and invited the public to come and listen to the sounds produced by the organisms living in the soil, offering attendees a glimpse into the complex interactions that sustain life in the soil.
The garden, even if we do say so ourselves, was a standout feature of the show and Tom Massey’s design was beautiful in the flesh. The garden even received a visit from royalty during Press Day, with the Princess of Wales arriving with a small group of school children for a tour of the garden.
BBC & Newspaper Coverage
Shortly after our stint at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, we spoke to a BBC film crew about our bioacoustics research project with the University of Warwick. The interview then made its way onto both local BBC Newsand national BBC Breakfast, as well as being featured in The Times and The Sunday Telegraph.
It was great to see our research making waves far beyond just the scientific community and capturing the attention of media outlets across the UK; helping us get the word out about our innovative research and how it can support the future of food and farming.
Mr Fothergills Press Day
Later in the summer, we were invited to come along to Mr. Fothergills’annual press day to talk to the gardening media about our DEFRA-funded ecoacoustics research. Our Director of Bioacoustics, Carlos Abrahams, headed down to Mr. Fothergills’ HQ in Newmarket, Suffolk, to talk about the developments we’ve been making in monitoring soil health, including our innovative soil acoustic monitoring device that will help farmers across the UK to save time, money and effort.
After the whirlwind that was RHS Chelsea and finding ourselves on various BBC news outlets, being invited to Mr. Fothergill’s press day was the icing on the cake and was an amazing platform for helping us in getting the word out about our research to horticulturists and gardeners alike.
Carlos’ CIEEM Fellowship
During his 30 year career, our Director of Bioacoustics, Carlos Abrahams, has made a significant contribution to the ecology profession: from educating the next generation of ecologists to pioneering ground-breaking research in the field of ecoacoustics. Much to his, and the rest of the team’s, delight, Carlos was made a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM); an honour that recognises his outstanding contributions to the field throughout his extensive career.
As we head into the New Year, there’s no signs of Carlos slowing down any time soon as he continues with his ecoacoustics research and many other endeavours. We look forward to seeing what this year has in store for Carlos.
New Team Members
2023 saw a number of new faces join the team, helping us to meet increasing demand as we continue to expand our business.
Joining us early on in the year, Karthik Ashok came on board as Data Scientist and Database Developer to support our ecoacoustic services as we began our two-year research project with University of Warwick. Having worked in a range of commercial and academic settings using AI methods for image and bioacoustics analysis, Karthik brought with him a unique set of skills that have helped us adopt new technology to unlock the innovation that bioacoustics techniques can offer across the board, including monitoring BNG, agri-environment and rewilding schemes.
Later in the year, we welcomed our newest Invertebrate Ecologist, Meg Skinner, to the team. Meg now works alongside our Senior Invertebrate Ecologist, Dave Goddard (“Dragonfly Dave”), where her impressive range of entomology skills has helped us to expand our services in this area. Over the last four years, she has also been the national Harvestman Recording Scheme Organiser for the British Arachnological Society.
Jonathan Jones also joined us as Senior Ecologist, bringing with him a keen interest in botany, protected species and impact assessments. Having worked on multiple projects across the UK, both large and multi-phased residential developments, he carries all of the critical components we require to minimise the impact developments have on the surrounding plants, animals and wider environment. In his first three months with us, Jonathan has already got stuck into a number of projects and has proved himself to be a valuable member of the team.
Good Practice Guidelines
A team of leading researchers, our own Carlos Abrahams included, published The Good Practice Guidelines for Long-Term Ecoacoustic Monitoring in the UK early last year. The guidelines, supported and funded by UKAN+, allows ecologists, conservation practitioners, land managers, farmers and rewilders to use the latest developments in acoustic monitoring to survey the biodiversity on their land and monitor changes.
After a number of UK Government announcements concerning Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), the increasing popularity of rewilding schemes and grants for farmers to manage their land for wildlife, the guidance was published just in time. The guidelines will hopefully set a standard of good practice amongst ecologists and environmental managers when applying such methods.
CIEEM 2023 Autumn Conference
In late 2023, we were fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the CIEEM 2023 Autumn Conference, with some of the team heading up to Liverpool for two days of networking and talks centred about the theme of modernising ecology.
Carlos took to the stage to talk about the Good Practice Guidelines for Long-Term Ecoacoustic Monitoring in the UK, and was later joined by our Bioacoustics Database Developer, Karthik Ashok, where they delivered a joint presentation on soil acoustics; sharing their research findings on this emerging field that explores the soundscape of the soil environment and its implications for ecosystem functioning.
Our Consultancy Director, Gavin Ward, also co-chaired a 4-day week workshop where they explored the pros and cons of a transition to a four-day work week, and how it can work for ecological consultancies. As work-life balance comes to the forefront in light of COVID-19 and the effects this has had on employees, and employers, priorities, there was a great debate about the different ways that each business could adopt some of the different measures, that each of the three panel member-businesses have been using.
The conference was a great platform for us to share our innovation in the field, as well as providing an opportunity for knowledge transfer between like-minded researchers, practitioners and organisations.
Soil Acoustic Meter Prototype
At the end of the year, we finally got our hands on our prototype Soil Acoustic Meter (SAM) after months of work from our ecoacoustics team. The hand-held device, for which world-wide patents are pending, allows users to place a probe within the ground and record soil sounds and measure the relative health of the soil.
At current, farmers assess the numbers of earthworms by manually digging sample pits and extracting and counting the worms present, a process that requires a lot of labour and time. We hope to eventually offer the device for commercial sale to farmers, vineyards and estate managers, which will enable them to collect large volumes of data in a timely manner, saving time, money and resources that can be spent elsewhere.
After initially unveiling our ecoacoustics research and soil listening station at RHS Chelsea earlier in the year, we saw our research covered far and wide across the UK – from newspapers to the morning and evening news broadcasts. Just when we thought the media buzz was starting to die down, our Managing Director, Andrew Baker, and University of Warwick’s Jacqueline Stroud were invited to discuss our research on the Gardening with the RHS podcast and its importance for the future of food and farming.
If you’re interested in having a listen to the podcast, it’s available here.
Gavin’s Appearance on The Joe Marler Show
The Joe Marler Show often invites people from all walks of life to come and talk about the extraordinary things they do, and in November Gavin Ward was invited to record an episode of the popular podcast for a refreshing, light-hearted conversation about ecology and what it means to be an ecologist…which often involves smelling otter poo.
To listen to this funny, inciteful exploration of the work of an ecologist, you can access the podcast here.
There are plenty more amazing things from 2023 that we could mention, but the above are the main highlights we took away from last year, some of which we never could’ve imagined happening. As we close the chapter on 2023, we’re looking forward to hitting 2024 at full speed and seeing what this year has in store for us.
The Baker Consultants team is highly experienced and we are passionate about what we do. If you need advice related to ecology, surveys or conservation, then please get in touch with us via our contact form on the website, or you can call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on email@example.com.