Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Environmental mitigation for local road schemes

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

I recently attended a CIEEM event on environmental mitigation for local road schemes, which included a site visit to look at the mitigation designed and implemented as part of the A5758 Broom’s Cross Road (Thornton to Switch Island Link) in Sefton. The event was run by Stephen Birch, Strategic Transport Planning and Investment Team Leader for Sefton Council.

The 4.5km long A5758 Broom’s Cross Road, linking the A565 in Thornton with the M57/M58/A59/A5036 Switch Island junction opened to traffic in August 2015. The scheme was designed to provide a local bypass of Thornton and Netherton, to reduce congestion, provide a faster, more direct link to the motorway network and improve local environmental improvements along that busy corridor. Although the scheme did not have any major environmental impacts associated with it, a wide range of environmental mitigation measures were implemented, typical of what is now expected of new road schemes. The event provided the opportunity to consider the environmental mitigation measures proposed at the planning application stage and then see how they have been implemented on the ground.

The Link crossed mostly agricultural fields of modest habitat quality. However, species of nature conservation importance were found in the area. These included bats, Great crested newts, Water vole, Red squirrel, Barn owl and Pink-footed geese, Lapwings and Black-headed gulls from the nearby Ribble and Alt Estuaries Species Protection Area. Most species remained largely unaffected, but there were some limited local negative impacts which were compensated for by:

- attenuation ponds designed to have large areas of shallow water to provide suitable habitat for amphibians and deter fish introduction

- existing ponds managed to improve habitat quality for amphibians and Water voles

- creation of 4 new ponds to enhance habitat availability for aquatic wildlife including amphibians and Water voles

- mammal ledges incorporated into box culverts to allow safe passage of Badgers and other mammals

- replacement hedgerow planting

- management of road verges to deter foraging Barn owls

- specimen tree planting to provide ‘hop-over’ bat mitigation

- treatment of Japanese knotweed

The ecology surveys and mitigation proposals were produced by Jacobs. UES have worked with Jacobs on a number of projects including undertaking bat surveys of 31 schools across England including Yorkshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Greater London and Kent.


UES Senior Ecologist


Bat rescue at Mottram St Andrew Primary Academy in Macclesfield

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016
Bat rehomed in a bat box hung in a tree

Bat rehomed in a bat box hung in a tree

I was recently called out to Mottram St Andrew Primary Academy in Macclesfield to rehome a grounded bat found by the school children during their break (initially thought to be a tarantula by the children!).

As per the Bat Conservation Trust guidelines (see below) the bat was safely placed in a box until I arrived:

1. Contain the bat:

a) Like a spider, by placing a box on top of it and sliding a piece of card underneath.

b) Alternatively, cover the bat with a cloth/tea towel and carefully scoop it up and place it in the box.

2. Put a tea towel or soft cloth in the box for the bat to hide in.

3. Put in a small, shallow container e.g. a plastic milk bottle top with a few drops of water (not enough for the bat to drown in). Make sure the water is topped up regularly.

4. Keep the bat indoors somewhere quiet and dark

After inspecting the bat (Myotis sp) to check that it was fit and healthy, it was placed inside a bat box that I hung on a suitable tree within the school grounds.

If you find a bat please follow the above guidelines and contact us on 01565 757788. Further information is available on the BCT website.


UES Senior Ecologist



CIEEM 2016 Spring Conference: Advances in Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA)

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

I recently attended CIEEM’s (Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management) 2016 Spring Conference in London. The conference was an opportunity to:

  • understand the principal changes to CIEEM’s guidance on Ecological Impact Assessment;
  • discuss what makes a good EcIA from the perspectives of key stakeholders;
  • learn about new approaches (and challenges) to taking account of ecosystem services as part of the EcIA process; and
  • explore good practice through analysis of case studies.

Of particular interest was the talk by Tim Hounsome CEcol MCIEEM on the requirement for a standardised approach to breeding bird surveys. There is currently no definitive guidance on the number of surveys required with ecologists undertaking between 1 – 10 surveys. The average number is 3, which is loosely based on the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) technique. However, initial research undertaken by Biocensus suggests that 6 visits may be more prudent. During their trials 90% of species were recorded after 5.5 surveys and 95% of species were recorded after 6.5 surveys. Further clarification is required on when surveys should be undertaken, at what time of year and how long for. 

Kathryn James

Senior Ecologist


Hedgehog foster care

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

A few years ago I became involved Warrington Hedgehog Rescue. The rescue centre was set up by a resident of Warrington who took it upon herself to care for injured hedgehogs in her local area. As word of the rescue centre spread more and more hedgehogs began to be admitted by concerned members of the public, and a call was put out amongst the local wildlife community for offers of help.

The centre had the facilities to house up to 20 hogs at any one time, some of which were permanent residents who due to their injuries could not be re-released into the wild. The hogs received full veterinary care and medication for any injuries, and then were cared for at the rescue centre until considered fit enough for release.

Volunteers were required to help care for the hogs in the centre and also to provide foster care for hogs in their own home. I offered to take hogs and foster them over the winter months. Juvenile hedgehogs born late in the year are often too small and have insufficient body weight to survive cold winters. Hogs need a minimum amount of body fat to protect them from the cold and to sustain them through the season when food is scarce or they will spend time in hibernation. Hogs ideally need to be at a minimum weight of 600g to have the best chance of surviving the winter.

Unfortunately the owner found she could no longer manage the rescue centre, but thankfully a network of carers had been established across the area who could continue to care for hogs.

I initially fostered two hogs (named Poppy and Smitty by the rescue centre). The hogs were kept outside in my shed, which I had to amend to suit the hogs – I installed a window as it benefits the hogs to be able to distinguish between day and night. I installed two rabbit hutches and ensured the shed was secure. I went on to foster a number of hogs over subsequent winters, the most recent one being Cindy.

The hogs are weighed weekly to assess changes in their weight – during hibernation weight may decrease, but whilst the hogs are awake and eating regularly their weight should increase. The hogs are provided with bedding, fresh water and a variety of foods – mainly tinned cat or dog food (not containing fish or milk) and dry cat biscuits, but also treats such as dried mealworms and peanuts. The hogs are very messy and the hutch needs to be cleaned daily.

If the weather is sufficiently cold the hogs will hibernate, at which point they are left dry food and monitored. During warmer winters hogs will not hibernate, staying awake throughout the season and requiring daily care.

Once spring in underway and the hogs have reached a sufficient weight they are released back to the wild. Release locations are carefully selected to ensure the hogs will have good foraging habitat and be safe from harm. Many hogs receive injuries from attacks by domestic pets or by becoming trapped in fences, grids and other structures. Hogs are also at risk from road traffic and from indirect poisoning from slug pellets.

Whilst having to clean out a dirty hedgehog hutch in inclement weather over the winter can seem laborious it is very satisfying to know that my actions are helping a species which has undergone a staggering decline in population.

Paul, UES Ecologist

Winter tree ID course

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

After a smattering of overnight snow, the traffic leading out of Cheadle, north Staffordshire, was stationary. It wasn’t the best start to the day, but I arrived at the training course safe and well, if a little late. As I sat in the traffic, I developed concerns about missing the introduction of the training day, but my concerns were put aside as soon as I entered the room. I was greeted with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and Mark Duffell, the course co-ordinator, spent a few minutes getting me up to speed.

The course first covered certain diagnostic characters which can be used to identify trees in the winter. A large proportion of trees are identified by their leaves alone, but in winter this is no longer possible. Instead, the key characters to look at are the buds; how many, their arrangement, their shape and the presence of bud scales or hairs. Other characters to look at include the twigs, bark, growth form and fruit (if present).

Some tree species are immediately identifiable by their buds, such as the Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) which has conspicuous black buds in winter. Cherry trees (Prunus sp) are instantly recognisable due to their horizontally striped bark. However, other species require further investigation. All attendants in the room keyed out a specimen with Mark, who explained how the different identification keys worked and how the different characters should be judged. This first example turned out to be Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). We then worked in smaller groups and keyed out species which you might not come across as often, such as Wayfaring-tree (Viburnum lantana), Common walnut (Juglans regia), Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and Wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis). Our group even managed to find a leaf scar which looked like the face of either a sloth or ET. Sadly, this last character did not feature in the books provided.

Despite arriving late, I had a thoroughly worthwhile time on the training course. I feel confident in identifying trees in winter, and even if I cannot recognise the species immediately, I know how to work it out. Many thanks to Mark Duffell and MMU on another excellent course.

Declan, UES Graduate Ecologist

Badger rescue

Friday, July 17th, 2015

As well working as an Ecologist for UES I am vice-chair of the Wirral and Cheshire Badger Group. As a volunteer for the group I am on call to respond to incidents which may include badger injuries, reports or badger persecutions, police incidents and issues with badgers on residential, commercial and industrial properties.

On a sunny morning in summer 2015 a resident of mid-Cheshire had been out at a local woodland walking his dogs when he came across a badger caught in a fence. He quickly returned home and contacted the Wirral and Cheshire Badger Group, and we immediately set out to attend to the badger.

The local man, Harry, came out with us to show us the location of the badger. On arrival we quickly realised that the badger was not caught in a fence but was in fact caught in a snare. At this point it was obvious that the badger had been snared for some time, as the surrounding ground showed signs of disturbance where the young badger had been rolling and digging to try to free himself. He was clearly exhausted and on my approach rather than try to defend himself he attempted to dig his head into the ground. This enabled me to grab the badger by the back of his neck and move him to obtain a better view of the snare. The snare was not of the illegal ‘locking’ type, and I was able to loosen the clasp enough to cut the wire with pliers. I then checked the wire had not cut into the badger before removing the snare. The badger as this point was very submissive, exhausted after his struggle and petrified by being out in the daylight and close to people. I quickly checked the badger for signs of injury – there were no external injuries and the badger had full movement in all limbs. I put the badger on the nearby well-used badger path and he quickly darted down a sett entrance around 10 metres away.

The badger sett was clearly visible from the footpath, and the snare was set on a clear badger track, leading me to suspect that badgers were intentionally targeted. We checked the rest of the area for further snares and thankfully found no more to be present. We informed Cheshire Police and the RSPCA of the incident, and also informed the Snarewatch organisation. The snare was removed and will be used in some of our Wirral and Cheshire Badger Group training sessions to help our members to identify signs of badger persecution.

I have since returned to the woodland to check for signs of similar illegal activity but thankfully have found none. Plenty of signs of badger activity can be found in the area, indicating that the badgers continue to use the woodland as their home. Whilst this was a very unpleasant incident to attend the badger was released shaken but unharmed. We are very grateful to Harry who reported the badger to us, and we are glad that we were able to respond so quickly to an act of badger persecution in our region.

Paul, UES Ecologist

Barn owl ringing & monitoring

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

As spring turns to summer and ecologists across the land are coming to the end of Great crested newt survey season and are planning for the bat survey season, I try find some free evenings to help with my local Barn owl group. For a number of successive years I assisted the Mid-Cheshire Barn Owl Group with checking and ringing Barn owls in the south Warrington area. Members of the group hold licences from Natural England and the British Trust for Ornithology which allow them to come into close contact with these legally-protected birds.

In previous years we had selected a number of locations for Barn owls boxes, based on a number of criteria such as the number of possible nests and roosts already available, surrounding habitat and absence of human disturbance. The boxes were built and installed by the group, which consists entirely of volunteers.

An initial check of the Barn owl boxes is made in early summer. This enables us to determine which boxes are in use. If the box is inhabited then any adult owls are captured in a net and examined. The birds are weighed and measured, and the age and gender of the bird are noted along with the details of any identification rings. Birds without an identification ring are fitted with one. Whilst the adult bird is being assessed the nest box is checked for the presence of eggs. The number of eggs is recorded and a return visit to the nest is scheduled. The adult is safely returned to the box. The whole process is completed very efficiently and quickly to ensure that any distress to the birds is minimised.

A follow-up visit is undertaken to the active nests. The young birds are carefully taken from the nest and are measured to establish their age. Birds of a sufficient age and size are then fitted with an identification ring and are returned to the box.

The success of Barn owl chicks is dependent on the availability of food. Their diet consists mainly of Short-tailed field voles, and so a good vole population and good hunting conditions are essential. Wet and windy weather will affect the ability of the adult Barn owls to hunt, and so poor weather conditions in summer can have a significant effect on Barn owl numbers. In years of optimal summer weather conditions Barn owls may raise two broods.

Not all Barn owl boxes are inhabited by Barn owls. Some remain empty, in which case the Barn owl group my look to reposition or repair the box. Some boxes are found to contain other birds, with Stock doves being common occupants. Kestrels will also often use Barn owl boxes to nest.

See Barn owl ecology and Barn owl surveys for further information.

Paul, UES Ecologist


BSBI field meeting – South Yorkshire Botany Group

Monday, April 28th, 2014

UES would like to thank South Yorkshire Botany Group for a wonderful field meeting at Sandbeck Park Estate and Roche Abbey Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

A wide variety of species were recorded on the day including the following rare species:

Fritillaria meleagris – Fritillary 

Fritillaria meleagris var alba – White-fld Fritillary

Campanula trachelium – Nettle-leaved Bellflower

Leucojum vernum – Spring Snowflake

Stellaria neglecta – Greater Chickweed

Helleborus viridis – Green Hellebore

Ribes alpinum – Mountain Currant






Lunar Hornet Clearwing Moth found on a survey in Manchester City Centre

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

The Lunar Hornet Clearwing Sesia bembeciformis, is a more common relative of the Hornet Clearwing Sesia apiformis, both species are in fact moths. They imitate hornets in appearance, flight and they even emit a buzzing sound when flying.

Hornet moths are a fantastic example of what is known as ‘Batesian mimicry’ where harmless species have evolved to imitate more harmful or distasteful species. The idea being that predators are likely to avoid the harmless moth based on a previous unpleasant experience with a hornet or other similar species.

The caterpillars are most often found in willow trunks and can remain in the larval stage for up to two years before emerging as a moth. This photo was taken in Manchester City Centre.


Freshwater invertebrates survey, RSPB nature reserve

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Karl Harrison, UES’ Graduate Ecologist, recently attended a freshwater invertebrate survey run by the RSPB at Coombes Valley Nature Reserve, Staffordshire.

The caterpillar of the Argent and Sable moth encases itself in birch leaves

The site is an oak woodland located in the steep sided Coombes Valley. It attracts a variety of woodland breeding birds including; flycatchers, redstarts and wood warblers. The site also has a small population of rare Argent and Sable moths (see photo).

The samples were taken from a stretch of the Coombes Brook as it passes through the nature reserve. They were collected using the ‘kick-sampling’ method, where the substrate is disturbed up stream of a hand net which collects any small invertebrates and everything else flowing down stream. The content of the net was spread out on a tray and any invertebrates carefully collected.

In the makeshift laboratory the collected samples were analysed and compared to known samples, paying close attention to the features that distinguish one family from another. The invertebrate larvae we hoped to identify were Mayflies Ephemeroptera, Stoneflies Plecoptera, Caddisflies Trichoptera and True flies Diptera.

Section of Coombes brook where Kick-sampling took place

Freshwater invertebrates are a good indicator of water quality, usually determined based on the species present and their levels. For example an abundance of Stonefly and Mayfly larvae suggests good oxygen levels and low levels of pollution.

The study of freshwater invertebrates can be very useful in ecological surveys, as they provide an indication of water quality and potential presence of amphibians.

Karl will be returning to Coombes Valley Nature Reserve to observe the larvae through their development.

For more information about the reserve or volunteering with the RSPB, details can be found on the Coombes Valley Nature Reserve Webpage.