Level 3 students from our Advanced Technical Extended Diploma in Conservation and Wildlife Management programme gained unique research experience during an inaugural study tour to the Isle of Skye.
As you all know, a range of species in England are protected by law; sometimes this is in the form of national Acts of Parliament and other times European Union wide regulations. Either way, dealing with them and advising upon them is the remit of Natural England (NE). One of NE’s roles is to regulate licenses for the purposes of development that will mitigate and reduce the impact on protected species such as the great crested newt (Triturus cristatus), the badger (Meles meles), the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) and bats (of the Chiroptera order). Though the badger is protected only by The Protection of Badgers Act of 1992 which does not have a European equivalent as this Act relates only to preventing blood-sport rather than conservation measures, the great crested newt and bats are covered by The Conservation Regulations of 1994, an EU wide piece of legislation; the new licensing system relates only to European Protected Species (EPS).
Development Mitigation Measures
For a development to remain legal, it has to put in place measures to mitigate for its impact on these species and this usually entails relocating them to a suitable location; each development requires a license for this as well as a licensed ecologist to carry out the work. To get this license, an application is required by NE and when additional information is needed this is requested via a Further Information Request (FIR). The downside of these requests is that they are required even for minor adjustments and that they take time (and time equals money!); last year this system was changed by NE for developments applying for great crested newt licenses to incorporate ‘annex’ licensing.
What Are ‘Annex’ Licenses?
The annex licensing system means that for any additionally required minor information and adjustments of license applications the wildlife advisors of NE can simply phone or email the developer or contracted ecologist (or any third party named by the developer or contracted ecologist); this cuts out the need for many FIR’s and in an 11 month period last year the need for 160 FIR’s for great crested newt applications was avoided. However, poor quality license applications still require the more formal FIR route as the additional information required is likely substantial.
But What About Bats?
As bats are covered under annexes II and IV of The Conservation Regulations of 1994, the changes to EPS licensing are set to apply to them this year. As there are 18 bat species in the UK, the greatest volume of FIR’s are generated by bat license applications, so the annex system should speed up the process. The new annex system was implemented for bats at the end of March 2014 and after the 1st of May 2014 the previous licensing system will become redundant; applications that use the former system will be returned to the sender. As of May 2014 this change will also apply to the hazel dormouse which is protected under appendix III of the Bonn Convention.
Reaseheath Mammal Society was created properly in January, though I’d had the idea for at least a couple of months before that after reading of other ecological recording groups set up by students. As mammals are my main interest it was an obvious choice to focus on them although that’s not to say that the sightings of other species are not ignored; when birds are caught on the trail cameras or when amphibians stroll through the footprint tunnels, details are submitted to the environmental record centre for Cheshire, rECOrd.
The focus is on acquiring records for this centre as the data will contribute to published local and perhaps even national mammal atlases; Cheshire Mammal Group relied on rECOrd for their 2008 ‘Mammals of Cheshire’ publication and are working on an update. Certain records are also submitted for the purpose of national projects like the Hedgehog Street campaign jointly organised by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS).
So on to what we have found! To date, footprint tunnels have been used in multiple locations and woodmice, weasels and either frog or toad prints were found. Longworths have been used at separate sites, finding woodmice and bank voles and trailcams have shown a number of other species such as badgers, otters and tawny owls. Field sightings of course have their place too and a range of rabbit warrens have been mapped out, footprints of the red fox discovered in the sandbanks of streams and endangered hedgehogs seen in numerous places. Bat detector surveys have presented at least 6 of the 10 (or possibly 12) bat species of Cheshire just above Reaseheath lake, with a couple of species above the ponds, too; they emerged in spring to feed on recently emerged insects such as mayflies.
I’ll finish off the introduction to Reaseheath Mammal Society with a few interesting facts about the fascinating mammals living alongside us; the woodmouse, one of three native mice, was previously believed to be one and the same with its two relatives the yellow-necked mouse and the harvest mouse. It’s only a relatively recent discovery that they are in fact distinct species. Secondly, the badger, a species of the Mustelidae family, bucks the trend shown by its solitary relatives (i.e. weasels and otters) and instead opts to live in groups known as clans, although in some situations it does revert to solitude. Noctules have been heard above the lake with heterodyne bat detectors, with distinctive ‘chip-chop’ calls coming through at 25khz; this bat is the largest in the UK, although it still only weighs 40g at most with a range of 19 – 40g.
If you read this and want to get involved at all, visit our Facebook page. Information on joining the group is included on the page (see ‘About’).
By Jack Riggall, Level 3 Conservation and Wildlife Management student
The hedgehog is a wild mammal that needs little introduction; there is nothing else even remotely like it in the country, although on the European mainland it has to be referred to as the western hedgehog to differentiate it from a relative in the same genus, the eastern hedgehog. Though it is a familiar neighbour to us all in the UK, it is becoming scarcer every day; it has in fact halved in numbers in the past 25 years. This decline rivals and even surpasses that of the endangered tiger.
However, we can make changes to our own habits that will encourage the hedgehog population. Hedgehog Street, a national campaign jointly organised by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, is always looking for voluntary Hedgehog Champions and with numerous hedgehogs around the college grounds it would be a positive move to sign up for the conservation of this species.
One purpose of this national project is to encourage neighbours to look at their gardens and ensure hedgehogs can come and go between them; this opens up a wider territory for the food (beetles, slugs and other creepy crawlies) that the hedgehog needs to eat each night. If you want further information on how to do this then please visit www.hedgehogstreet.org.
I’m also submitting any hedgehog records that people can share; any time you see them, whether it’s alive or the unfortunate victim of road kill, please let me know; I can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The records will go to rECOrd, the Cheshire environmental centre who collate species sightings for distribution maps, and from February to August next year to the national hedgehog survey operated by Hedgehog Street.
By Jack Riggall, Level 3 Conservation and Wildlife Management student