We have thousands of hours experience of carrying out surveys and associated reporting on a range of species in a variety of habitats. We are proud that the quality of our work is recognised by our retention by Natural England under a framework agreement to provide ornithological services in terrestrial, coastal and marine habitats. As well as in-house staff we retain a range of trusted freelance ornithologists to ensure good geographic spread around the entire UK to minimise the additional costs of travel and accommodation.
We are fully conversant with the elements of survey design and implementation and adhere to the standards set out in the Bird Monitoring Handbook and required by the British Trust for Ornithology. We cover all standard surveys such as Common Bird Census (CBC), Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) coupled with vantage point (VP) surveys in relation to wind farms and to specific groups such as raptors.
One example of the latter was an intensive series of surveys to investigate potential use of a potential wind farm area by a small breeding population of Honey Buzzard. The survey successfully recorded the target species as well as Common Buzzard and a number of priority farmland species such as Turtle Dove. Detailed evaluation of direction and height of mapped flight routes suggested the potential wind farm was not in a core area of use focused on blocks of woodland or on a favoured commuting route between areas of woodland.
In addition, we have used and developed a number of more species-specific or group-specific surveys of breeding waders in uplands and lowlands, breeding terns along coasts and beaches and locating and mapping Barn Owl nest sites and territories. Further work for the RSPB involved detailed vegetation mapping up to 4 km from individual owl territories that were currently occupied as well as those that had recently been abandoned. The work illustrated the importance of less intensively managed verges and small, often isolated patches of rough grassland within an intensively managed arable landscape. Farmers engaged with their owls were sensitive to their needs and often managed habitat accordingly.
Further species-specific work involved the location, mapping and monitoring of Ringed Plover nests and broods along a 12 km stretch of shingle and sand beach in relation to groyne development and beach recharge over four years. This revealed the sensitivity of Ringed Plovers to human disturbance by the public and their dogs and annual increases in human use reduced the extent of available breeding habitat and success of Ringed Plovers. Density and breeding performance of Ringed Plovers was enhanced by provision of fenced areas for Little terns.
In 2015, we were commissioned by Natural England to verify the distribution of the five UK breeding tern species - Sandwich, Common, Arctic, Roseate and Little - within a number of internationally important Special Protection Areas (SPAs) containing one or more colonies with various species combinations. The work aimed to confirm the modelled distribution of the different species in order to reinforce proposals to extend colony-based SPAs into the offshore realm. The repeated surveys undertaken throughout the breeding season at Hamford Water in Essex, the Northumberland Coast, Liverpool Bay and Morecombe Bay were conducted by land-based observers. At Teesmouth, the issues with access meant that we chartered a boat and skipper that we had worked with before to navigate the length of the Tees estuary to the barrage at Stockton. In general, the work confirmed the ability of Sandwich and Common terns in particular to penetrate river systems as well as inshore coastal waters sometimes far from the colony. We look forward to seeing the proposals by Natural England becoming fully protected foraging areas for our breeding terns.
We have also undertaken surveys of waterfowl from small boats and routinely took to the water to undertake research into potential Coot grazing of recovering water plant populations in restored shallow lakes in the Norfolk Broads. Detailed behavioural observations revealed the remarkable dietary plasticity of this species in subtly different environments with >60 different food types taken. Most importantly, the work showed that strong territoriality between pairs limited the grazing pressure upon seedlings in the summer growing period. However, outside the breeding season a high density of Coots could reduce the biomass of plants that remain available as vegetative parts over the non-growing period.