From dormouse monitoring, sediment sampling and pitfall trapping for great crested newts, to taking National Vegetation Classification surveys of Royal Naval Air Service runways and camera surveys of urban badgers, the sheer variety of my work as an ecologist makes every day rewarding.
Bat surveys are a large and fascinating part of my work at AECOM. Bats are notoriously harder to survey than other protected species as they are small, airborne and nocturnal. In addition, approximately three quarters of bat species frequently roost in trees.
My interest in how bats use trees was piqued after a training course on the subject. The course increased my curiosity to understand these creatures more thoroughly. I learned that bats may only use an individual tree roost for two percent of the year. Therefore, the chances of actually finding a bat in a tree roost are extremely slim. Gaining a better understanding of the types of roosts that bats use can influence impact assessments, the mitigation methods employed and improve the suitability of replacement roosts.
In addition, bats play a significant role in the environment, which is why all native species of bats are strictly protected under law in the United Kingdom and Europe. Bats are key indicators of biodiversity and ecosystem health as they provide a number of ecosystem services. More than 500 plant species rely solely on bats for pollination. Furthermore, bats act as an excellent pest control. The common pipistrelle bats can consume 3,000 gnats (a tiny flying insect) in one night.
When my line manager asked if I wanted to train for my tree climbing licence to assist AECOM with its work on the High Speed 2 (HS2) project, a major high-speed rail line development between London and Birmingham, I jumped at the chance. Once I passed my tree climbing assessment, it was time to put these new skills to use to investigate potential bat roost features for the HS2 project. I’m lucky to be involved in this survey work, to reduce the environmental impacts of this high-profile scheme, and to play a part in transforming rail travel in Britain.
The ecological surveys on this project have involved assessing woodlands, which will be impacted by the scheme. Trees are first checked from the ground, and any potential bat roost features are noted for the attention of the tree-climbing team, and that’s where I come in. Climbing helps us get better answers about bats and their habitats, which helps the project as well as the bats.
Since I became a qualified tree climber, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside some of the more senior and experienced AECOM tree climbers. This has been a really valuable experience, enabling me to learn lots of handy hints and tips — from new ways to tie knots to new, less strenuous, foot-locking techniques. I still rely heavily on my throw bag, but it’s getting easier.