Alien Invasions

To mark Invasive Species Week (May 24-30th) Professor Richard (Dez) Delahay shares some fascinating but disturbing facts about non-native species and offers a glimmer of hope for their future control.

Human activity has resulted in the translocation of many animals and plants outside of their natural range. Although many of these introductions of non-native species are relatively benign, some have changed ecosystems beyond recognition and pushed native species to the brink of extinction or beyond. Clearly the particularly harmful introduced species are a major threat to biodiversity and so naturally their control and eradication is a major preoccupation for many conservation organisations.

Where non-native species have negative impacts on conservation or human activities, they adopt the menacing prefix of ‘invasive’. But whether or not an introduced species manages to establish itself, spread and disrupt native ecosystems, is the result of a complex interplay of

many factors. No wonder then that ‘invasion biology’ is the subject of intense scientific investigation as ecologists try to predict the most troublesome alien species so we can act early to prevent their spread.

Photo: Tom Driggers

Introductions often occur accidentally, like when plants and animals inadvertently hitchhike on clothing or internationally traded products, or in the ballast tanks of shipping. The tree snakes responsible for decimating the native forest birds and lizards of Guam for example, are thought to have arrived on the Pacific island in cargo shipped from the US. And they are not the only species to travel the globe in the belly of shipping, as an estimated 7000 species are transported around the globe in ballast water every year! Other introductions have however been entirely intentional, such as the translocations of British songbirds, fish, plants and mammals to Australia and New Zealand performed by the so-called Acclimatisation Societies in a bid to ‘enrich’ the depauperate antipodean flora and fauna!

As if we needed further proof of human folly, there has also been an embarrassing tendency to try to manage one invasive species with the ill-advised introduction of another! Take for example the tale of the Partula snails of the Society Islands. In the late 1970s a predatory snail native to Florida was introduced to this South Pacific archipelago in the hope that it would devour the African land snails which had been introduced a decade earlier. But the new colonisers had different ideas and proceeded instead to feast on the native Partula snails, driving 54 of the 58 native species to extinction in the wild.

But we don’t have to look so far from home to see the potential threat of invasive species on native ecosystems. Here in Britain we are no strangers to non-native species, from ring-necked parakeets and Canada geese to Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed, the list is long….. So long in fact that there are now estimated to be almost as many non-native plant species in Britain as natives!

Invasive non-native species can impact on native species by out-competing them for resources, by eating them or spreading disease to them. The implications for species conservation are clear, but their impacts can also change the way ecosystems function. Take for example the invasive exotic pines that have spread across the botanically rich Fynbos habitats of South Africa. The trees not only alter this biodiverse shrubland ecosystem to the detriment of native plants and animals, but their demands on subsurface water resources cause streams to run dry and so reduce supplies of drinking water for local people and livestock. The control of these exotic pines is therefore as much about alleviating human poverty as it is about conserving native plants and animals.

This illustrates a general point about invasive species, which is that their disruptive impacts on ecosystems can fundamentally change the way they function, putting in danger the services that support human well-being. Such effects might be relatively direct (as in the case of the thirsty exotic pines) or could arise indirectly when the impact on a single species precipitate a cascade of ecological changes, sending shockwaves through the system. Depressing as these far-reaching consequences are, evidence linking invasive species to the deterioration of ecosystem services must surely strengthen the case for investment in their control. In South Africa the realisation that invasive plants endangered water supplies resulted in the Government initiating a comprehensive eradication campaign. Our increasing understanding of the importance of functioning ecosystems in providing essential goods and services for human well-being could therefore be a powerful means of augmenting the traditional conservation arguments for controlling invasive species.

To find out more about Invasive Species week check out the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat website for events and a wealth of information.

Alien invasions: How non-native crayfish have clawed their way into our waterways?

On Thursday May 27th (12:30-13:15)RSK Biocensus will be hosting a webinar where our aquatics expert Dr Peter Walker will talk about non-native crayfish in the UK.

“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to talk more about these intriguing creatures and their effects on our aquatic environments and native species. The First Thursday Club webinars offer a terrific first-hand opportunity to understand meaningful issues and to get direct and informed information,”

Dr Peter Walker

Managing risks to wildlife from Covid-19 in humans

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Credit: NIAID-RMLWidespread infection of the human population with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) raises the possibility that wild animals could become infected and thereafter be a potential source of onward transmission to humans and other animals.  This might not only impact adversely on wildlife health but could also pose a significant threat to the effective management of Covid-19 in human populations, including the potential to give rise to new variants of the virus.  It is therefore extremely important that those of us working in ecological consultancy do everything we can to minimise risks of human to wildlife transmission.

To date infection in free-living wildlife has only been detected in a single mink in Utah, USA, but cases in captive mammals (e.g. tigers, lions, gorillas), pets (cats, dogs, ferrets) and experimental studies suggest that several other species may also be susceptible to the virus.   The main risks of human to wildlife transmission are likely to arise when handling animals, working in close proximity or in confined spaces where they are present, and exposing them to materials and surfaces that we could have contaminated.  On the basis of what we currently know about susceptibility to this kind of virus, bats and badgers may be of particular relevance in the UK, although we should treat any wild mammal as potentially susceptible.

The Wildlife Health Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)and the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) have produced useful guidance on the precautions that should be taken when working with wild mammals.  This is generic advice meant to cover a range of species and although it is targeted at researchers, these basic precautions are also relevant to aspects of ecological consultancy.  For those who work on bats there is some more tailored guidance from the IUCN Bat Specialist Group.

It is the collective responsibility of all of us to try to ensure we do not inadvertently contribute to the spillover of this virus into wildlife populations, but ecological consultants have a particularly important role to play.

August 2018 – Adventures in ecology

Letters from Lico
As many of you will already be aware, two of our intrepid company directors (Rich and Tim) undertook a once-in-a-lifetime mission into the heart of Mozambique visiting uncharted and unexplored territory in search of previously undiscovered species. The trip was part-funded by Biocensus. The final write up has been delayed by Tim being really busy in the office, but you can read his day-by-day account of the trip on his blog and the full, exciting story, video footage and photos are coming really soon. In the meantime here’s a link to a write up in The Guardian with some stunning images.

See you at the bar
Biocensus is proud to be sponsoring the drinks reception at the CIEEM Autumn Conference in Glasgow. It’s a match made in heaven because when we’re not sourcing top quality ecologists for surveys or adventuring in remote locations we can often be found with a drink in our hands. You could say it’s our other area of expertise. We’re looking forward to raising a glass with you on 20 November. Cheers!

Save the date
As well as preparing for the CIEEM conference we’re also planning a Suppliers Day on 7 November. We’ll be releasing more information soon, but for now please save the date.

Meet the supplier
We now have nearly 700 suppliers on our database with skills and experience ranging from new graduates full of energy, enthusiasm and up to date skills to renowned industry experts with decades of specialist experience, and we love you all! We’ve been chatting with one of our newest suppliers about his move into freelancing and how registering with Biocensus has worked for him.

Matt recently left his role as a senior ecologist in a medium sized consultancy firm to go freelance. He told us about what prompted his decision and what he’s discovered since.

Biocensus: How did you get into ecology?

Matt: I did a first degree in Biology and then a Masters in Conservation Management. I did seasonal ecology work for one summer and volunteered in the winter on a bat conservation project in Costa Rica. Then I was offered a permanent role as a Junior Ecologist. I’ve changed company twice and worked my way up to Senior Ecologist level.

B: When did you first start thinking about freelancing?

M: I’d been considering it for a couple of years. You know what it’s like with ecology, you have your office base, but you don’t tend to spend much time there. When I was a Junior, being sent to wherever the work was didn’t bother me. It’s part of the job. It becomes less appealing when you’re living with a partner or you have children. My daughter was born in April 2015 and I came back from paternity leave straight into bat surveys 180 miles from home. I moved into a management role overseeing a team of ecologists. I really missed the fieldwork, and being part of a team – managing staff is not my strength. A couple of uni friends had gone freelance and it was working well for them.

B: How did you make the move into freelancing?

M: To start with I did my homework. I started off by talking to friends who’d done it who I knew would be honest about the pros and cons. I got a good idea from them about how much I could earn and I calculated how much work I would need to do to equal my salary at the time. I found out what I would need to have in terms of insurance, how to set up as self-employed.

B: You mentioned pros and cons…

M: Yes, so for me the big pros are having control over where in the country I work, and being able to choose field work over office work. The biggest con is the risk. When you’ve got a mortgage to pay – we had our second child late last year so my partner isn’t earning anything at the moment – you have to be sure that you can earn enough to cover your living expenses. When you’re 25 and you have no real responsibilities your attitude to risk is completely different. I’ve got a good network of contacts in ecology. I spoke to people I trust, not just because I needed information I could trust, but also because of not wanting to compromise my position with my employer if I decided not to go freelance… and to maintain a good relationship. Ecology is a small world.

B: Was there anything you came across that you hadn’t foreseen?

M: Well, as I say, I did a lot of homework. I did think hard about whether I needed a website and in the end I haven’t got one done. Someone mentioned Biocensus and I have got all my work through you since I set up. Marketing myself hasn’t been necessary.

B: Any regrets?

M: Apart from wishing I’d made the leap sooner – none!

B: Tell us your best ecology joke.

M: How can you tell the gender of ants? If they float in water they’re boy-ants.

B: Ha ha… don’t try this at home!

Thanks to Matt for giving us his time. If you would like to be featured in a future edition of Meet the supplier let us know. And if you haven’t registered with us already you can sign up on our website.

March 2018 – Signs of Spring

Hello all, from a wintery Bath in Mid-March!

It might feel like January out there, but things are moving on a pace with primroses and celandine popping up everywhere and the local peregrine on eggs.
Primroses in the canalside garden outside our office window peregrine sitting on three eggsClick the image to see live pictures of the peregrines!

My feeling is that once the wintery weather lets up, spring will burst forward and everything will be happening in a rush……. and quite late. Which is ironic considering where we find ourselves professionally.

Last week quite a few members of staff were walking about looking frazzled and muttering things like “it’s started” and “here we go”. Along with the usual grumble of “why do they always leave it until now before giving us the green light?” Quite often the next thing they say is “we are going to need more suppliers”.

I know I’m always saying this but it would appear that this year, more than any other in our history, Biocensus is going to need a host of high quality field ecologists. This is where you come in!

Also it’s where Hannah Lees comes in too. Hannah is our new Supplier Manager and it’s her job to help me grow the database of suppliers, manage the quality assurance side of things and, most importantly from your point of view, to help you guys get fully registered with us. Tell you what I’ll let Hannah introduce herself:
A photo of Hannah Lees, our new Supplier Manager
Thank you, Tim, and hello everyone!
I joined Biocensus in January and am gradually getting my head around the ecological jargon – my knowledge of UK wildlife is mainly confined to startling birds and mammals when I’m running in the hills around Bath. My background is in information management and databases (I’m a qualified librarian) and I’m splitting my time at the moment between sorting out our existing information ­– getting in touch with all of you to get everything up to date and accurate – and hunting down new ecology companies to speak to.
One big reason we need to look at our database is that the General Data Protection Regulation comes into force in May and we need to make sure we have permission to store your data and that you understand what we are storing and why. This means that we need you to take a look at your supplier profile at click on “update your record” and check that we have the correct information. At the end of the form are check boxes to say that you consent to us storing your data and that you have read and understood our privacy policy.

I am here to help with any questions you have about registering and updating your details, so do get in touch.

And, as Tim has said, I would love to hear from new suppliers so if you have any ecologists within your company or your wider network who you could put in touch with me that would really make me happy.

As always we are also looking for people to be seconded into some of our larger clients’ offices. Specifically at the moment we need:

A principal level ecologist with c. 10 years or more experience, to coordinate the writing of an Ecology chapter for a national infrastructure project. Starting in late April / early May, and lasting for around 6 months, they will join the project team, and coordinate taxa-specific authors and have oversight and sign-off responsibilities.

An experienced ecologist who is highly organised, to coordinate large scale multi-taxa surveys on a large infrastructure project. This would be a challenging and fast moving role for the right person.

A land access and H&S coordinator. The role will require working within the project team to secure land access for ecology surveys, and help to coordinate the H&S processes.

As always, although this newsletter is being sent to individuals a good number of you work for other companies. If this is the case, please see the secondments described above as business opportunities and advise the relevant person in your organisation.

Finally, a plea to ask you to keep your profiles up to date. The selection and deployment of our subbies is dependent on (amongst other things) having all the relevant boxes ticked.

In certain parts of the country we’re pretty sure we could keep you 100% busy for the entire season, so it really is worth getting in touch!

Enjoy the spring, when it arrives!

Tim and Hannah

December 2017

I’m currently being given the run around by a black-headed gull!  I was on the phone with a very important client the other day and spotted the gull outside my office.  It was sporting a colour ring which means it will have been ringed as part of a research project and re-sighting of these birds to report the unique number is crucial to the success of such studies.  I, therefore, found myself trying to maintain some semblance of intelligent telephone conversation whilst also holding my binoculars and straining to see around the corner of the window and read the number on the ring.  I failed on both counts.  Then today I walked past the bird on the towpath of the canal but still couldn’t read the ring, even from 10 feet away (although I did get this photo).  In desperation, I have now bought some bread and aim to entice it down when I am poised with the binoculars.  If that doesn’t work then I don’t know what will!

In less important news, it’s been a truly insane year for Biocensus and the normal autumn downturn in work just hasn’t materialised.  Taking this together with the work we are being asked to quote for, it looks like next year could be a record breaker for the sector.  As a result, we’re on a big recruitment drive.  We’re currently looking for two senior ecologists, 3-4 ECoWs for site work next season, a supplier manager and a business development assistant. Our database of free-lance ecologists is now just shy of 600 and we’re hoping to grow this rapidly next year with the help of a dedicated supplier manager to coordinate the registration and quality assurance of the whole database.  If you are interested then get in touch or pass the news on to anyone who might be.

The Brexit vote back in June has created a great deal of uncertainty in our sector as a large part of the work that we do is connected to UK laws that were put in place as a result of European Directives.  Over the summer Biocensus was approached by CIEEM to get involved in lobbying members of parliament and senior civil servants to ensure the best possible deal for wildlife.  Whatever your views on Brexit itself, the withdrawal does present an opportunity to redraft the wildlife law of the UK and potentially to fundamentally change farming.  The effects of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on our wildlife have been pretty horrific over the years and so I’m quite keen that we see this as a huge opportunity for UK wildlife.  Biocensus are therefore investing both time and money in this lobbying project and so far the meetings we’ve had with politicians have all been very positive.  We have yet to speak to the recognised eco-warrior that is Mr Gove, but who knows we may well just do that!

Gav volunteering

I’m sure Gavin knows exactly what he’s doing with those tools….

Finally, Gavin and Georgia had a volunteer away day with one of our clients (Aecom) last week carrying out a day of vegetation clearance.  I was due to go but noticed that the temperature was due to plummet and so pulled out muttering some old chestnut about being too busy…

Hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year.

All the best


June 2017 – It’s hot out there!

The last few months has seen some changes around Biocensus, mainly through on-going recruitment. As I reported back in March we recruited two ecology schedulers Zoe(L) and Georgia(R), and next month we welcome Robin Jones to Biocensus as Associate Director.

Robin comes to us from our friendly client Arcadis (and we’re still friends) where he spent 15 years accumulating his vast knowledge of ecological consultancy. Robin will become the technical lead on many of our projects including the large infrastructure ones where his particular specialism will be a huge advantage.

Work on the large infrastructure projects are going ahead full steam (well nearly) and of course the biggie here is HS2 (although some of our work on the smart motorways is also of significant scale). We’re now currently working on all sections of HS2, phases 1 and 2, and are now bidding on the enabling works packages that have recently started coming out. It’s going to be a very, very busy few years.

In order to service all these contracts we’ve had to register a lot of ecologists and get them through the QA process and added to our books. Over the last six months or so we’ve had a real push on signing up of freelance ecologists from all around the UK and now have over 500 on our books. This is a fantastic achievement and means that we can deploy large teams of local ecologists at short notice.  BUT, we still need more registered!  Ideally we want 1000, because it’s a nice round number with a good ring to it! If you know anyone who would be an asset to our network please let them know that they can register here: Supplier Registration

As we’ve escalated the growth of our supply chain we have also cranked up the quality assurance side of things and have over the last month or so been carrying out (amongst other things) field audits of Biocensus ecologists. So far this has been by none other than the President of CIEEM Dr Stephanie Wray! We do pre-warn the fieldworkers so it’s not like they’ve had the president of CIEEM leaping out of bushes to check up on them!

Finally, we are very proud to have been involved in the newly published WildGuides book “Britain’s Mammals”. As with “Britain’s Birds” Biocensus have contributed to the text and provided financial support.  Happily, there have been excellent reviews of both publications.

Right, I’m off to enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

Take care