BSG Ecology owns a number of high-specification thermal imaging cameras for carrying out ecological survey. Our staff have professional training in their use and can undertake post-processing of radiometric data. As part of our service our staff can advise on the circumstances in which this technology will significantly inform the planning process.
Thermal imaging can be a very effective survey tool for ecology; it has been used in biological recording and research for many years and is also regularly used in wildlife film making. Recent advances in technology have resulted in more portable units which also record high resolution footage and take still images.
Working with Thermal Vision Research, BSG Ecology began trialling thermal imaging cameras for survey of birds, bats and other species in early 2014. Impressive results led us to invest in three units and training for ecologists in our team with regard to their use.
We are finding an increasing number of ecological applications where applying the technology adds significant value to baseline work. These are typically situations where the due to the specific requirements of the project, high resolution data are required.
We have, for instance, deployed the equipment successfully to investigate habitat selection and patterns of behaviour of nocturnal birds at sites where there are potential linkages to Special Protection Area (SPA) populations.
In addition to capturing still and video images we also offer post-processing of thermal data. This technique allows closer checking of the radiometric characteristics of an image and can reveal more than is otherwise apparent from visual checks alone. We have used this technique with projects affecting flyways of rare bats.
Our work with thermal imaging to date demonstrates its effectiveness for ecology survey and also indicates it could be used more widely to provide ecological / ornithological data. Applications include:
- Survey of nocturnally active waders, such as stone-curlew and golden plover, and waterfowl in farmland and estuarine habitats;
- Survey of breeding and foraging nightjar and other heathland/woodland bird species such as woodcock and long-eared owl;
- Obtaining very accurate counts of bats emerging from roosts (in situations where high resolution data are needed);
- Identification of potential bat roosts from the relative warmth in the air rising from different holes and crevices in trees and difficult to survey buildings
- Obtaining better estimates of the number and direction of bats moving along linear features such as hedgerows in dark conditions than would be possible from acoustic means alone;
- Detection of bats and birds sheltering beneath climbing plants (such as ivy on trees and buildings) to ensure legislative compliance during works;
- Obtaining counts of badger clans and making observations on foraging areas; and,
- Long-term monitoring of nocturnal activity on consented sites to discharge planning conditions (for instance monitoring movement of animals through underpasses).
The technology could also be applied to other nocturnally active species, such as pine marten or otter.
When to use Thermal Imaging Survey
The use of thermal imaging is advantageous in specific circumstances but is not likely to be necessary for most standard ecology survey. We can provide advice about when the use of thermal imagery is likely to be beneficial.
Reasons to opt for the technique might include:
- To capture ecological survey data which are otherwise very difficult or expensive to obtain. For instance rapid scoping of large numbers of trees for the presence of bat roosts, or for identifying the nocturnal distribution of birds and other fauna; and,
- Where the ability to provide video or still imagery is required. This can provide clearer evidence for stakeholders.
Since August 2014 BSG Ecology has been using thermal imaging cameras to determine the nocturnal distribution of golden plover Pluvialis apricaria on a proposed wind farm site.
Carrying out nocturnal surveys for birds has always been challenging. With less specialised (typical) night vision equipment (an established method for nocturnal survey), it is only possible to cover relatively small areas in comparison with equivalent daytime surveys, and estimating the numbers of birds present in fields, their distribution and activity can prove difficult.
BSG staff are trained to operate and carry out field surveys using the FLIR 650sc camera and in the post-processing of thermal data.