There are standard techniques for the survey of many protected animal species in the UK, particularly for those that remain common and widespread at the national or regional level. These protocols are useful, but taking a formulaic approach to survey work doesn’t always address the question that needs answering. In certain circumstances the use of equipment such as motion-activated cameras and video recorders can significantly increase the value of a survey programme and allow a greater level of confidence in the interpretation of results at very little extra cost. Innovative use of technology can also help engagement with consultees and engender confidence in survey results.
In this case study Laura Grant from our Oxford office explains how the use of motion-activated infra-red cameras helped us assess the status of a European otter holt (a hole in which they rest and potentially breed). In turn this helped us to successfully secure a Conservation Licence to close the holt as substantial mitigation was being offered that would increase the value of the local habitats to otter.
Case Study: Otter Conservation
A recent project for a minerals extraction company saw us using one of our motion-triggered infra-red cameras to remotely monitor otter activity at a holt.
The discovery of an otter spraint near a hole in a working face of a gravel pit in Oxford, led us to conclude that the hole was potentially in active use as a holt. The gravel pit in which the holt is located is in the process of being restored to reed bed and this will require the pumps that currently control water levels to be turned off. The worst-case scenario would have been the loss of an otter breeding site (and potentially the death of dependent cubs). It was therefore important to understand the level of use of the holt and whether it was used for breeding, to ensure that appropriate mitigation for its loss was put in place.
Monitoring by remote camera deployed over 8 weeks allowed us to establish that otters were not using the holt for breeding although they were recorded infrequently inspecting the hole. We found that the hole was occupied by a single rabbit and was frequently visited by badger, red fox, brown rat and local farm dogs. Even a green sandpiper made an appearance!
The infra-red film evidence was an important part of the information used to secure a Conservation Licence to legally close the holt. It demonstrated that closure could be done in accordance with the law and in such a way that appropriate mitigation for the loss of the holt could be put in place. Without this technology we would have had to carry out many site visits in which to look for evidence of use of the holt, and would probably not have achieved the level of certainty that the camera evidence helped supply. This also resulted in significantly reduced costs for the client.
The restored pit is expected to provide excellent otter habitat, and has the potential to support a greater level of use than the pit in its current state, particularly as part of the mitigation will be the creation of a new otter holt.
Other Applications of Remote Technology
There are many other instances in which use of basic remote technology might be an appropriate means of providing robust baseline data in an un-invasive manner, and in a way that could help inspire additional confidence in survey results. Examples include:
- Use of video to record emergence of bats. This can be particularly useful for species that leave their roosts late, such as barbastelle. In these circumstances it can be very challenging to count bats moving from the roost using the naked eye alone.
- Deployment of cameras to monitor outlying badger setts and determine their status; or to provide a better understanding of clan size prior to submitting a licence application to close setts, and to inform both mitigation and licensing prior to development.
- Monitoring the use of underpasses and culverts designed to help badgers or bats cross new roads or otter to move through a catchment.
- Providing further confidence in the survey results for elusive species such as pine marten.
If you would like to find out about more applications of motion-triggered cameras or discuss their potential use to monitor wildlife, or to inform a protected species licence application, please contact Laura Grant or Ed Austin for more information.