Baker Consultants

Winners of the Prestigious Industry Best Practice Award for Innovation

Natural England recognised for innovation in cost-saving bird survey methods at internationally important site, Thames Basin Heaths.

Baker Consultants Ltd and Natural England have been awarded the prestigious best-practice award for innovation from CIEEM for the use of new remote survey techniques to record rare birds.

Natural England has been coordinating annual surveys of the rare birds (nightjar, woodlark and Dartford warbler) on the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area since 2003. The surveys require a high level of effort with surveyors having to go out at night to survey the nocturnal nightjar.  The award recognises projects that make a real difference to the effectiveness of the profession and are transferable to other applications.

Funded by Natural England, Baker Consultants’ Technical Director, Carlos Abrahams, led the team of ecologists which collected bioacoustics data and then developed a system for measuring ‘occupancy’ levels which takes into account the ‘detectability’ for each of the bird species. The data was collected using low cost recorders which can be left on site throughout the bird breeding season.  The recorders are then recovered and the data can is analysed to determine how many birds are present on the site. This method greatly reduces the amount of survey hours required and generates more robust data.

The approach is truly innovative and the first of its type in Europe. Carlos Abrahams explained, “The use of bioacoustics offers a cheap and reliable method of monitoring the populations of these birds. We can determine the population density without the need for nocturnal surveys which rely on the skill and hearing acuity of the surveyors. Our method eliminated any surveyor bias, giving more robust data, that can be repeated year after year to monitor the health of the population.”

Natural England’s senior planning advisor Marc Turner said “We are very pleased that Natural England has received this CIEEM award in conjunction with Baker Consultants. This project showed how new, low cost technology can be used to provide comprehensive data on these bird populations. This method of data collection in the future will help save resources and improve accuracy and consistency, therefore improving the monitoring effort at important designated sites and beyond.”

The annual CIEEM awards are the most prestigious awards for the ecology profession however the 2020 awards were delayed by Covid-19.  The ceremony finally went ahead on January 20th 2021, when Baker Consultants Ltd in partnership with Natural England, received the award in the category ‘Best Practice for Innovation’ for their work in developing a new bioacoustics methodology for surveying birds.

Bioacoustic methods can be used for monitoring almost any species which makes a detectable noise. The techniques have long been used for detecting bats but are now been expanded to birds, mammals, insects and aquatic species. Baker Consultants is currently working on a DEFRA funded project with the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology examining how bioacoustics might be used for monitoring Agi-Environment schemes.

Baker Consultants’ work at Thames Basin Heaths has now been published as a peer reviewed academic paper available to anyone wishing to apply this technique, Combining bioacoustics and occupancy modelling for improved monitoring of rare breeding bird populations,  Carlos Abrahams and Matthew Geary 2020.  Ecological Indicators Volume 112 p106 – 131.

Read more about the project in the CIEEM 2020 Awards Booklet (page 12) here, or visit our Bioacoustics page.

Baker Consultants was also awarded Small Consultancy of the Year. See the acceptance speech from Andrew Baker, Fellow of CIEEM on LinkedIn.


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