Unmanned Arial Vehicle technology has already made a splash in the front pages, often for projects that are years away from fruition – think Amazon and their mooted drone delivery service.
However, one way that it can have an immediate and tangible benefit is with the monitoring of nesting bird species, and the promotion of areas that would be of interest to tourists.
Dr. Paul Morrison, the Coquet Island site manager for the RSPB, said: “Helishoot conducted a trial filming on Coquet Island ahead of the season’s influx of nesting terns.
“The immediate impact of using this equipment was the obvious new dimension it offered the RSPB Coquet team to promote the reserve in a new innovative way,” he continued.
“There is huge potential for expanding this approach in the future as well as helping with monitoring of the nesting bird species on Coquet. In particular it would be very useful to help find large gull chicks that hide in the dense vegetation on the island, using an infra red camera. This would be easy to achieve as this work could be carried out towards the end of the season when there is minimal risk to disturbing sensitive or protected species such as roseate terns.”
For those worried about the impact a UAV would have on the nesting population of birds can put their fears to bed. “The interaction with puffins and large gulls, whilst in flight was nil, with gulls flying past the device at close quarters with no visual alarm discernible,” said Dr Morrison.
UAV technology could also be used to protect, as well as to monitor. “It would be interesting to see if a small loudspeaker could be attached to use as a scaring method for playing alarm calls to frighten large gulls from the island in spring and autumn,” Dr. Morrison concluded.
Drones are already being used in other parts of the country to keep track of cranes and corncrakes, which are being reintroduced to the British Isles following their disappearance from the land.
UAV tech is already being used in other areas of business, including in agriculture, where it has been used to monitor crops in much the same way that they have monitored the puffin population on Coquet Island.
Their uses could also include the conservation of old buildings, as well as the production of 3D maps to determine when and where repairs are needed.
Helishoot is a North East based film and survey company that has CAA Permissions to fly commercially and carry out this type of work.
Article contributed by Russell Hughes
As technology advances, more and more applications are being found for the use of drones – unmanned aerial systems – which were initially developed primarily for military use. Conservationists have recognized the value of having ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ in vast untamed regions where poaching is a problem, and countries like Namibia and Nepal are making use of drones to monitor vulnerable wildlife and stop poachers before they strike, rather than tracking them down and catching them after the damage is done. The potential for using drones in bird conservation efforts is diverse, and in the United Kingdom, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is reportedly using drone technology to monitor the nests of rare birds and introduced species.
Designed by Nigel Butcher of the RSPB, the drone is powered by six small electric motors that run so quietly they barely make a sound, and most importantly, do not disturb the birds. Using the marsh harrier as an example, Butcher notes that entering the area around the nests to put up cameras may result in the parents deserting the nest, a behavior they are known for. The drone, on the other hand, can fly in and film activity in the nest, transmitting images via live video feed to researchers. Moreover, birds and mammals that are active at night can be tracked with the use of thermal imaging technology, providing valuable information to researchers.
In addition to monitoring the breeding patterns of marsh harriers and bitterns, the drone technology is being used to keep track of cranes and corncrakes which are being reintroduced into areas in the UK, from where they had disappeared. Drones will also be used to film inaccessible nesting areas in the Minsmere Reserve for the BBC Spring Watch series. Located on the Suffolk coast, RSPB Minsmere is one of the UK’s most biodiverse reserves, and viewers will have the opportunity to see some of its natural bounty right in their own homes, starting on May 26 and running for three weeks.
The RSPB’s wildlife survey would not be possible if not for the loyal participation of the public, who assist in the Make Your Nature Count project. The survey began on the 4th of June and ran to the 12th of June, involving over fifty thousand gardens. Due to the assistance of the participants, the RSPB Make Your Nature Count project could collect the necessary information to compile a report on a variety of bird species to determine how successful the breeding season was. The feedback was extremely positive.
Once all the data was received, it showed that there was an increase in the breeding of robins, and that there was a ten percent increase in song thrushes in gardens across the United Kingdom. The organizer of the RSPB Make Your Nature Count, Richard Bashford, commented that it was very exciting to see the increase of song thrushes, blackbirds and robins, as it means that weather conditions were ideal during the breeding season. Since 2010, blackbirds had increased by fifteen percent. Bashford said that even though the numbers of the song thrushes had increased, it is important to remember that they did go through a period of decline and are slowly beginning to recover and have a far way to go before their numbers are satisfying, even though there are not any guarantees that the same favorable outcome will appear next year. House sparrows also seemed to increase by approximately twenty percent, but are still to be watched carefully. Thirty percent increases were recorded for chaffinches and blue tits.
The survey was performed in rural areas, urban and suburban areas and it was also the first time the public participants were asked to be on the lookout for grass snakes and bats. Almost one in fifty of the participating members reported grass snakes and they are more likely to be found in rural areas. Thirty-three percent of the participants also reported bats. As an added request they were also asked to take note of toads and frogs, as there had been a decline in their numbers over the last two years. The wildlife in any garden impacts the environment, and through the voluntary services of the public the RSPB is able to conduct their surveys and compile their reports to keep constant records on the various species.
The most tragic and shocking fact is that if nothing is done to increase the numbers of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, this bird could be extinct within the next decade. It is the harsh reality of loss of habitat, migration patterns and the fact that people set out traps to catch bigger birds and accidently trap these extremely endangered birds. With the last survey done along the Russian Arctic coast in 2009, it was estimated that there were between a hundred and twenty to two hundred breeding pairs remaining. But with them being so difficult to spot, it is feared that the number could be as low as sixty, which is alarming.
In 1758, Carl Linnaeus described the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, with its most distinctive feature being its bill that is spoon shaped. It is a very shy wading bird that is located in the Chukotka Region of Russia, but during winter they migrate to countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, taking on eight thousand kilometer journeys to find the warmth of summer. They have also been seen in China, Japan, Thailand and North Korea.
Fully grown, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a mere fourteen to sixteen centimeters, with a reddish brown head, and featuring dark brown streaks over its breast and neck. Conservationists estimate that the Spoon-billed Sandpiper population declines by approximately a quarter every year, and therefore a dedicated team has joined forces to establish a project that will assist in increasing the population. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, along with Birds Russia, will be leading the team and working closely with a variety of organizations, such as the Moscow Zoo and RSPB, to make the project work. They are hoping to either capture a few breeding pairs of Spoon-billed Sandpipers to breed in captivity, and then release back into the wild, or find eggs which will be incubated at the Moscow Zoo, after which the chicks will be transported to Gloucestershire to be raised until they are old enough for release.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is organizing fundraising events for the project, as well as creating public awareness regarding the plight of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. While raising awareness, hunters will be given compensation if they are prepared to take down their nets, as well as given compensation for every live Spoon-billed Sandpiper they release. It will be the first time that conservationists will attempt to breed these birds in captivity, and if they are successful, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper might stand a fighting chance of avoiding extinction.
The Big Garden Birdwatch in the UK is an annual event that has taken place for the last thirty-two years and is organized by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. This is a massive undertaking as it involves over six hundred thousand participants, but it is vital to the tracking and recording of small bird numbers. Members of the public volunteer to take note of their gardens or open public areas and record the number of birds and individual species they see within a dedicated hour. This year the count took place on 29 January 2011 and the feedback was astounding.
During a very severe winter experienced in the United Kingdom in 2009, a significant decrease in small bird sightings was noticed. The new information received proved that the numbers were on the rise again. During the campaign, more than ten million birds were counted and recorded by the public, and it showed that the number of small birds in the United Kingdom had doubled, with sightings of goldcrests, blue tits, greenfinches, wrens, pheasants, jays, kestrels, lapwings, robins and even waxwings, which migrate to the United Kingdom from Scandinavia. It was the most successful count of waxwings in over thirty years. The research also showed that house sparrows were the most highly sighted birds in the gardens of the United Kingdom.
Sarah Kelly, the co-ordinator of the Big Garden Birdwarch, commented: “We were really interested to see how the small birds fared after such a disastrous last year.” She went on to say, “It appears that many may have had a decent breeding season and have been able to bounce back a little.”
The real excitement, however, was with the wonderful sightings of the waxwings. Even Mark Eaton, scientist for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, commented on them saying, “We knew this was going to be a bumper year for waxwings as we’d had so many reports from all over the UK. But the Big Garden Birdwatch is the first indicator of exactly how many were seen in gardens, and we’re pleased that so many people got to enjoy sightings of these beautiful birds.”