Tuesday, 30 March 2021

My First Symposium: A Sense of Community

Blog by Kieran O’Malley

These unusual times call for an unusual symposium, so instead of crowding into a room I found myself crowding into a zoom call for the Bat Conservation Trust’s second woodland symposium.

The symposium was a two day event that brought together a variety of stakeholders, from bat workers and researchers to landowners and managers. Being a PhD student that carries out research on a woodland specialist species (the barbastelle bat), I was excited to engross myself in a community of like-minded individuals who all share a common goal; to restore and improve our native woodland, particularly for bats.   

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the first day of the event due to other commitments (thankfully I will be able to watch a recording of it at a later time). However, the second day provided plenty of intriguing talks and topics to make up for this! The day kicked off with a talk from Ash Murray, a senior reserves manager for Natural England, who presented some interesting results of how bats use woodlands, not just at ground level but also within the often overlooked canopy.

Shortly after this Vikki Bengtsson (Pro Natura) gave a fascinating talk on veteranisation, a process in which cavities are artificially created within trees or stimulated to form by the damaging of live young trees. Given my interest in barbastelles, which often rely on the large number of cavities associated with ancient trees, I found the findings from her work particularly enthralling. It was the first time, perhaps naively, that I had heard of this method of woodland management. However, I quickly came to appreciate that the implications of this work could be potentially far-reaching.

After a short break, we joined a Q&A session with a panel of experts to discuss climate change and conservation. This was a great chance to explore the challenges facing bats, as well as other species, and highlight the actions that need to be taken moving forward. Whilst the many difficulties of the situation were discussed, it was encouraging to hear the optimism from many of our panellists. As Dr Olly Watts, senior climate change policy officer at the RSPB, said “we do finally seem to be moving economic and social life’s towards a way of better green living”, and I think we can take some hope from this. In fact, as was discussed, bats in the UK will fair proportionally well compared to many parts of Europe, with species expanding their range north whilst still retaining their southern populations.

After a break for lunch, George Peterken provided the keynote talk on the long term study of Lady Park Wood on the border of Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire. With the recording of trees at this site starting as early as 1944, it was incredible to hear about the history of this woodland, along with all the ups and downs that have occurred over the years. In particular, I was impressed to learn of the dedication of George and others in the creation of detailed maps that documented the exact position and size of individual trees within the woodland.

I thoroughly enjoyed the symposium, and learned a great deal about the different projects happening across the UK and beyond. Despite having to juggle over 150 participants over zoom, with all the breakout rooms and questions to answer, the symposium was both smoothly run and engaging. I send out my huge thank you to all the organisers and speakers, and I look forward to seeing everyone again at the next one, hopefully this time in person!


Click here to listen to the Woodland Symposium episode of BCT's BatChat podcast, to find out more about the 2020 Woodland Symposium!

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

HELP!! … Animals are in a sticky situation

Blog by Aaron Pardo

Our love for animals, nature and the environment are not acquired by some but instead lost by most. Remember as a child running to your parents or friends to show them a ladybird you had found, or a bumblebee feeding on nectar from a blooming plant in your garden? This love and fascination with nature is instilled in all of us, treating each discovery like a little piece of treasure. So, what happened? Our lust for power and domination on the planet has led to us to choose between economic pursuits or environmental ones instead of incorporating both in our endeavors. I hope to witness a change in our approach. A world in which all animals and humans can share this planet with mutual respect and not cause any unnecessary suffering. My mission therefore is to be there for the animals when they need us the most.

In November 2020 I was perusing through social media after a long dog walk in a local forest. I stumbled across an image of a bat posted by the RSPCA. The bat was in a very bad way, it was starved, dehydrated and had been exposed to harsh weather conditions. It later sadly passed away due to injuries it had sustained. So, what had happened? Had it been attacked? Ran over? Or even collided with something? NO! It had been caught inadvertently in a glue trap. A glue trap also known as glue boards or sticky boards are rather like the name suggests, a form of pest control that consists of either wood, cardboard or plastic coated with a non-drying adhesive. This device is indiscriminate in nature meaning many non-target species, even pets are caught out and suffer. I was shocked by this discovery not least because the animal had died in the most horrific way, but because this had happened in the UK. I decided I was going to do something about it. Initially I did my research to understand the extent to which this was happening in the UK. My discoveries appalled me. Between the years of 2015-2019 there were 243 reports made to the RSPCA referring glue traps. Astonishingly less than 27% of these cases were rodent related incidents. Around 5% of incidents involved non target mammal species including hedgehogs, squirrels, rabbits and bats. In addition, nearly 55% of incidents involved wild birds, amounting to 133 incidents. The remainder involved, snakes, cats and even dogs.

I study politics at the university of Exeter and my interest was about to pay off. I wanted to help stop this crisis and decided I would approach it through the political stream and utilize my knowledge by launching a campaign. I immediately contacted my local MP to make him aware of what was unfolding on our very own doorstep. I pleaded with him and his colleagues to do anything and everything they could to stop this mass murder of our beloved wildlife. Weeks passed by and after many meetings with local and national charities and trusts I had a response. He was willing to support my campaign to stop the use of glue traps and tabled an early day motion in parliament calling for an urgent review. In addition, he will be seeking an adjournment debate in due course. So far, this has the support of 7 MPs from the three major parties in Westminster. The Conservatives, Labour and the Scottish National Party. This demonstrates this is a cross party issue and regardless of your political views everyone can support this motion. As this motion can only obtain the support of MPs, I decided a two-pronged attack was needed. So, I launched a petition to reflect the discontent amongst the British people for these abhorrent killers. Afterall a YouGov poll conducted in 2015 for the Humane Society International discovered 68% of people wanted glue traps banned. Unfortunately, this petition was rejected on the grounds that there is currently another petition calling for the same action, so I have thrown my support behind that. I have now embarked on emailing all MPs, charities and trusts who can help support this by utilizing their platforms.

I was very privileged to hear back from the Bat Conservation Trust. They offered their full support and gave me this opportunity to write a blog on their page outlining the disgusting nature of glue traps. Bats as previously stated are significantly affected by glue traps. Most bats get themselves stuck when they detect small insects also trapped in the device. As they go to feast, they find themselves stuck. Unable to break free they have no choice but to lie there helpless with only a distress call for hope. However, the distress call is largely counterproductive as more bats will inevitably get closer to investigate also becoming victims of these tools. As we can see this vicious circle is far too common in the UK and we need to do something about it to help prevent further animals including bats from getting caught up in this abhorrent tool.

I like to think of myself as an optimist and believe the time for change is now not when. I cannot do this alone however and need your support. Unfortunately, due to strict parliamentary protocol I am unable to influence any MP other than my own to support the Early Day Motion (EDM). So instead, I am asking supporters of the Bat Conservation Trust and anyone reading this to please email their MP asking them to support EDM 1477. I have made the process incredibly easy for you by creating an email template below one can send to their MP asking them to support the EDM and sign the petition. Please feel free to copy and paste.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you today to ask for your support in an Early Day Motion against the use of glue traps in the UK. Glue traps also known as glue boards or sticky boards consist of either cardboard, plastic or wood with a non-drying adhesive or a shallow tray of adhesive. When animals cross the board, they become stuck by their feet. Unable to free themselves, other parts of their body then become stuck, further entrapping them. In attempting to free themselves they may rip out patches of fur, break bones and even gnaw through their own limbs to escape. If trapped and the animals are left unattended, they will die slowly from dehydration, starvation or exhaustion. I along with major charities and trusts such as the RSPCA and RSPB believe that glue traps cause unacceptable cruelty, and their indiscriminate nature means that many non- target species, even pets are caught out and suffer.

I have linked the EDM 1477 for you to support: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/58087/glue-traps.

In addition, I urge you to sign and share this petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/560288.

Many thanks for your time and support."

When sending this email to your MP please ensure you include your name, address and postcode so they can verify that you live within their constituency bounds. If you are unsure of who your MP might be or want to find their contact details check this page: https://members.parliament.uk/constituencies/ As well as sending that email to your MP I ask from the bottom of my heart that everyone reading this that cares about animals as much as I do to please sign this petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/560288. If we gather enough signatures, we can indicate to the government that we are unhappy with the use of these tools in the UK and we want change, NOW!

As Eduardo Galeons once said “Many small people, in small places, doing small things can change the world”. I believe with your support we can change the future of animals’ fate by ending the use of these glue traps. So, we can one day say that our love for animals, nature and the environment is not acquired by all but instead lost by none.

If anybody reading this requires more information or campaigning tools please feel free to contact me via this email: aaronpardo22@gmail.com

In addition, you can follow my Instagram and twitter accounts dedicated to animal welfare:

Instagram: @animal_welfareuk

Twitter: @AnimalwelfareU

I am also working on a YouTube channel which I have linked here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCx5cuGwsEQUCVz5T3puiPLQ

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

A student view of the BCT Bats and Woodlands symposium

Blog by Eilidh McNab

Despite no one being in the same room (thanks Covid!), there was a very congenial, chatty atmosphere to start this second Bats and Woodland Symposium hosted by BCT, 7 years after the first symposium. The opening of the symposium included a spur of the moment competition as to who owned the oldest New Naturalist book (1948 I think was the oldest?!). Brilliant. After an official welcome from Sonia Beverley (BCT Woodland Officer), Dr Carol Williams (BCT Director of Conservation) outlined some follow up from the previous symposium discussions before the main talks of the day began.
The keynote address was very engagingly delivered by Mike Render; covering his (almost!) 50 years of work in both the forestry and academic sectors. It truly was eye opening to hear his first-hand accounts of types of woodland management from previous decades – for example including laying substances to kill oak trees to allow Sitka spruce to go!!! (which subsequently killed the spruce too, what a waste of a woodland!). How times have changed (we hope!).

Chloe Bellamy of Forest Research then discussed some work she and colleagues (including at BCT) have been doing on woodland bats and their distribution across the UK using Habitat Suitability Models (HSM). Once developed these HSM can then be used to ‘fill in the gaps’ of known distributions of our rarer bat species, thus allowing the targeting of resources where they are really needed.
Gareth Fisher from the RSPB then presented an introduction to the woodland wildlife toolkit – a great example of a practical tool that should appeal to a wide range of landowners and managers. This is an online toolkit allowing you to input the location and characteristics of your woodland; then highlighting some key species that may be present. The website then gives detailed information on suitable management strategies for these species. It’s a fantastic example of a successful collaboration between many different organisations, including BCT, Butterfly Conservation, Forestry Commission, Natural England, Plantlife, RSPB, Sylva Foundation and Woodland Trust.
Sonia Reveley then presented a great citizen science project run by BCT to survey bats on the National Forest Estate. She highlighted the need to innovate and problem solve in bat recording – in this case making waterproof cases for audiomoths to allow for this large-scale citizen science project to go ahead. BCT now hold over 45,000 audio files for the project – a fantastic data set that I look forward to hearing further about in due course! She also highlighted how useful bats are as indicator taxa – they are long-lived species and are sensitive to environmental changes that also affect other species, so surveying bats can highlight potential changes in other groups.

Following Sonia, David Hill’s talk highlighted just how important woodlands are to all bat species, but also how difficult it can be to properly survey for bats within woodland habitats. Methods are often very labour intensive and specialist (e.g. tree climbing), and many tree roosts are transient, making them more difficult to find. Trapping can favour certain species over others. A potential solution is to trap using acoustic lures, increasing the likelihood of catching a wider range of species. It is important to consider the impact of lures of bat behaviour (both disturbance to other bats in the area as well as the bats you actually catch). As has been noted in other areas where autobats have been used, many more males of most species were caught than females (apart from Daubenton’s), so this must be considered when discussing results.
After some minor technical hiccups (dealt with very well by the speaker and by BCT staff!!) Rich Howorth of Back from the Brink (BftB) provided an introduction of the BftB project, a partnership of 8 different organisations (NE and 7 NGOs) to transform the fortunes of nature, inspire the nation to discover, value and act for threatened species, and leave a legacy of restored threatened species. It highlighted the very many huge benefits from such a project, but also (importantly) some issues with setting up a project of this scale. He then handed over to Susannah O’Riordan (Butterfly Conservation) who outlined some of the species-specific projects they have planned for BftB – including the beautiful Barbastelle and Brown Long-eared bats, but also many plant, reptile, bird and invertebrate species. She highlighted how often specific management regimes for single species can lead to benefits for several others; for example, providing woodland clearings for adder benefitted many plant species and provide excellent bat foraging habitat. After this there was a question to the audience about how to integrate and balance the needs of different taxa in site management – which sparked many constructive comments and discussion and was a nice activity to get everyone actively involved in the symposium.

The final organised session was a panel discussion on the drivers of change in woodland creation and management, tree diseases, and infrastructure projects, starting with “the right tree in the right place!”. When creating a woodland, while picking the correct species according to soil, micro-climate, etc., is
important; you must first identify why you are planting a woodland – is it for the conservation of certain species, is it for a commercial crop, is it for carbon sequestration, etc. What do you want to achieve with your site?! And do you want to plant trees everywhere?! The need to understand how some species require open habitats was highlighted - planting trees may actually ruin a site (as happened on a site Keith Cohen surveyed for fungi called waxcaps, which were present in acid grassland habitats that were subsequently planted with trees and the site destroyed for that species). Highlighting the importance of knowing what is already present (i.e. having solid baseline surveys) and then deciding on what target species you want to encourage.

Further discussions included Richard Crompton on tree diseases and pests, the need to ‘climate proof’ what tree species we are planting now, and what non-native species may need to be considered in planting regimes to allow this to happen. There was then a discussion regarding infrastructure projects – where Sue Hooton and Sarah Proctor highlighted the importance of site work and micro-siting to ensure protection of certain habitat features. A 50m corridor on plans could, on the ground, often be reduced and routed to ensure that larger trees with good bat roost features are left rather than simply clearing a 50m corridor that isn’t actually needed.

It was a great day, thanks so much to the fantastic staff and trustees at BCT and to all the great sponsors of the symposium. A special thanks to the BftB project for sponsoring free student places, allowing 11 students to attend this brilliant event. There were great talks from a wide range of speakers, and the discussion groups were particularly engaging – a brilliant environment for scientific and industry discussion and engagement.

Click here to listen to the Woodland Symposium episode of BCT's BatChat podcast, to find out more about the 2020 Woodland Symposium!