Research and development are very important components of any
surveillance programme. The provision of good data on population
trends relies on tried and tested methods and a pilot period where
surveys are assessed for their ability to deliver the required
information. We have very little information on some species
because suitable survey methods have not been developed, and this
is particularly the case for rare species with restricted
distributions, which are difficult to survey using existing
methods. Developing new survey methods, improving data
collection and assessing volunteer input are all vital aspects
to developing an effective and comprehensive surveillance and
Research project assessing the distribution and abundance
of Bechstein's bats
Run by David Hill (University of Sussex) and Frank
Greenaway (Natural History Museum) in collaboration with Forest
Enterprise and funded by Mammals Trust UK
Bechstein's bat is rare throughout its range in Britain and
continental Europe, but there is a dearth of baseline data on
population size or distribution. Consequently, monitoring
population trends at a regional or national scale is currently
impossible. This species is generally difficult to record, as its
movements are largely confined to the interior of mature woodland,
it roosts almost exclusively in trees, and its echolocation calls
are quiet and indistinctive. Bechstein's bat is also relatively
difficult to catch by mist-netting.
We have developed a new technique for monitoring Bechstein's
bat which uses synthesised social calls to attract bats into the
mist net. This greatly enhances capture rates and allows areas of
woodland to be surveyed in a systematic way.
Over the past 12 months we have more than doubled the number
of known maternity colonies in Britain using this method.
In a project supported by a grant from the Mammals Trust UK,
and in collaboration with Forest Enterprise, we are surveying the
500 ha Chiddingfold Forest complex for Bechstein's bat. So far we
have located three maternity colonies that are using different
parts of the Chiddingfold Forest SSSI. Together they number at
least 80 breeding females.
The next step is to implement this methodology at a much
larger scale, to provide baseline data for the population in
woodlands across the south east of England.
Scoping Red Squirrel Surveillance
Run by Queen Mary University of London, Queen's
University, Belfast and the University of Newcastle and funded by
JNCC and PTES
Very shy and secretive and generally living at low densities
in conifer forests, where they are able to survive in the
absence of the introduced grey squirrel, red squirrels have been in
severe decline for decades. Understanding the population changes
for this species in areas where only red squirrels exist and being
able to track the spread of grey squirrels into red only areas will
help with red squirrel conservation and the management of refuge
Following a two-year study developing
red squirrel monitoring methods, the Forestry Commission, PTES and
JNCC are jointly publishing guidelines for monitoring red
squirrels. The guidelines will help to identify the questions
being asked about red squirrel populations and the best methods to
use in particular situations.
For more information on red squirrels
visit the UKRSG website
Small Mammal Surveillance Project
Run by The Mammal
Society and funded by JNCC and The Mammal Society
Shrews, mice and voles are notoriously difficult to survey
because they are very small and hardly ever seen. Even their signs
are difficult to see and identify. In 2005, The Mammal Society,
funded by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), carried
out a one year study to develop a surveillance scheme for small
mammals. The next steps will be to test the proposed survey design
and methods. The Mammal Society is already running
small mammal trapping and mammal identification courses
prepare surveyors for this new challenge.
Deer Collisions Research
A research project throughout Great Britain,
overseen by the Deer Initiative
Focussing on research into deer related Road Traffic Accidents.
The research is being funded by the Highways Agency and the
Scottish Executive, together with the Woodland Trust, the National
Forest Company, and the Deer Study & Resource. The research
intends to develop for the first time a well stratified,
nation-wide system for collection of standardised information on
deer related RTAs from all relevant sources throughout Great
Britain. The objectives include:
Ascertaining the level of deer related RTAs in differing
regions and land-type classes in Britain, and explore any
underlying differences in frequency of accidents.
Acting as a pilot and evaluation for a longer-term deer RTA
monitoring program, and its possible extension to encompass RTAs
with other wildlife.
The data collected could provide additional information for
surveillance schemes collecting information on deer species. For
further information go to the Deer Collisions UK website
Run by the Forensic Science Service (FSS) (mammals
other than bats) and the University of Bristol (bats)
Funded by the FSS, JNCC, the Environment and Heritage Service
(EHS), the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) and the University
The organisations involved are collaborating to produce a
reference library of DNA information for all terrestrial mammals.
To date DNA sequencing of the cytochrome b gene has been completed
for 28 mammal species. Work is underway at the University of
Bristol to provide similar information for the 16 resident bat
species and this should be completed in 2005.
The DNA reference library is being compiled to provide a
resource for potential future use in national hair tube surveys for
a variety of mammal species. Hair tubes have been used as a survey
method in the past to establish species distribution and there is
potential for using this method to estimate population trends.
However, morphological methods of hair identification can be time
consuming and require considerable expertise and regular
Hair tube surveys, with subsequent species identification
using DNA sequencing, could be a useful method for small mammal
species that are difficult to survey using other methods, once a
cheap automated method for sequencing DNA has been devised. They
also have the potential to involve large numbers of volunteers who
need not necessarily have mammal identification experience.
Assessing volunteer input
It is important to be able to assess the quality of the
information collected by volunteer surveyors and to be able to
answer certain questions, such as:
- How good are volunteers at collecting the required data - do
they miss a significant proportion of field signs/ sightings?
- Are there any major differences between data collected by
volunteers and professionals?
- Does the ability of volunteers improve with experience and/or
Providing answers to these questions will enable the
Partnership to improve the quality of data collected in surveys and
the validity of the results.
Mammal Monitoring in Wytham Woods
Run by The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit
(WildCRU) at Oxford University with funding support from the
This project at Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire, has been running
for a number of years, collecting data on the ecology, behaviour
and changing abundance of a number of species, including several
mammals. The extensive knowledge of the area has provided a very
good backdrop against which to test the abilities of volunteers
under various conditions and in April 2000 WildCRU and the
Earthwatch Institute began a collaborative project to monitor the
populations of mammals and the involvement of volunteers at
The stated objectives of the project include:
- Developing methodologies which will benefit from the work of
volunteers to collect important monitoring data, and will provide
training in appropriate monitoring techniques.
- Providing an opportunity to calibrate and test the validity of
specific survey methods.
Additional information to assist the development of
surveillance and monitoring schemes Research projects can also
provide additional information on species distribution and other
factors that could affect the quality of information collected in
the surveillance and monitoring programme.