How citizens can support science and conservation
PTES is an international conservation charity with big ambitions. We know that there is nothing natural or inevitable about the alarming rate at which we are losing animals and their living landscapes. PTES are passionate about protecting animals facing extinction in vulnerable habitats, but we also know that passion isn’t enough: successful conservation is based on sound scientific evidence and public involvement and engagement. For almost 40 years our ground-breaking research has resulted in practical conservation action across the world, targeted where it is most needed and where it will have maximum impact. We focus on the less iconic species and habitats such as stag beetles, hedgehogs, dormice, traditional orchards and urban environments.
Mammals on Roads
The public can make a big contribution to data collection and with the virtual universal use of ‘smart phones’ and their associated apps data gathering has become easier than ever before. PTES has run the Mammals on Roads survey since 2001. This is a survey that records roadkill, on single carriageway roads outside urban areas, and in the 15 years it has been running over 100,000 mammal records from over 500,000 km of road have been submitted. It may seem odd to record dead animals but there is good evidence to support the idea that the number of dead animals is a reasonable reflection of the size of the existing populations. The number of dead hedgehogs recorded fell by approximately 50% since the survey started and this started to highlight the possible dramatic decline in the UK hedgehog population. Other surveys indicated that this decline was not an anomaly and public generosity allowed PTES to link with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) to start Hedgehog Street. Hedgehog Street has been a highly successful campaign, recruiting voluntary Hedgehog Champions to promote hedgehog conservation in urban environments.
Volunteers are also employed to help with office based GIS work, providing a work experience opportunity for people wishing to improve their work prospects or who wish to devote some spare time to conservation. We have been lucky enough to host all types of volunteers from university students gaining a couple of weeks’ experience, graduates with existing skills to put to use, people from other professions with an amateur interest in orchards or mapping, through to retirees looking for something interesting to occupy their time.
Ground-truthing and condition assessment surveyors received a map of the area they wished to survey with the sites to visit that we’d identified during the GIS stage. They also looked for additional sites that we missed during the desk-study. All necessary printed materials, including information to disseminate to owners, was provided. They returned completed surveys to us which were also sometimes entered by volunteers. The resulting inventory now contains over 20% of the habitat as condition-assessed, or around 7400 hectares, which is enough to allow conclusions to be drawn regarding its overall condition across the UK.
There had been very few studies on hazel dormice in Britain before the 1980’s although a Mammal Society Dormouse Survey in 1977 suggested that there had been a decline in both the range and population of the species in Britain. This prompted English Nature to fund Pat Morris and Paul Bright of Royal Holloway, University of London to investigate the question of why dormice are rare in Britain. The discovery, by Doug Woods, that dormice would readily use special nest boxes made it possible that this question, and general dormouse ecology, could be investigated. In 1988 boxes were put up at 5 sites in Somerset and Herefordshire and over 35 visits 384 dormice were found and biometric data recorded and this formed the basis of the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP).
The NDMP requires a minimum of 50 boxes to be erected approximately 20 metres apart, at a site where dormice are known to be present. They are checked a minimum of twice a year in either May or June and in September or October to give an indication of the pre-breeding and post -breeding population. The number of dormice found in the boxes is recorded along with basic biometric data such as sex and weight and the results are submitted annually to People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). The cumulative results provide the data for the national dormouse population trend analysis.
Over the years more sites, including those with reintroduced populations, have been added to the Programme and by 2015 356 sites were monitored, 18,468 boxes were checked and 6,362 dormice were recorded.
The NDMP was set up to study dormouse ecology and the national population trend but in addition it also provides an opportunity to encourage people to interact with wildlife, become involved in a national mammal monitoring programme and explore their local woodlands. The presence of dormice can also encourage sympathetic woodland and hedgerow management at both a local and landscape level.
The NDMP celebrated its 21st anniversary in 2009 and it is hoped that it will be able to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2038. There is no ‘quick fix’ for dormouse in Britain – the population has been declining for at least the last 100 years and it may take at least that time to begin to reverse the trend.
Britain has a long history of amateur and volunteer input into wildlife survey and recording which has greatly enhanced our understanding of our natural environment. It can sometimes be difficult to organise this effort to report with the rigour demanded of a scientific study but the value of public involvement should not be underestimated. The wildlife monitoring programmes that PTES manages could not be undertaken without an ongoing contribution from volunteers and it is hoped that while we, as an organisation benefit, the contributors also benefit by having a reason to engage more with the outside world.
Contact details to find out more:
PTES website www.PTES.org
Contacted January 2017 - believed to be correct
Contacted January 2017 - believed to be correct