Firstly a huge thank you to everyone that has helped collect Wild Watch data – we certainly couldn’t have got this far without you. We’ve made a great start to the project and we are really looking forward to the 2018 survey season and what we find.
The Wild Watch is carrying out Nidderdale AONB’s biggest survey to date. We want to find out where our special wildlife is, improve our knowledge on it and use this information to make our future conservation work better. We also want you to help us and are aiming to work with as many volunteers as possible to carry out our surveys.
We are collecting data on over 60 species of conservation concern and once we have gathered the data, will carry out detailed Habitat Suitability Modelling for some of these species. This will enable us to write species action plans for around 10 species. Habitat Suitability Modelling is a technique used to provide a detailed assessment of the ecological value of habitats across large areas – like the whole of Nidderdale. The model uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to look for relationships between a species and the detailed environment around it. You can find out more about our plans here.
In March 2017 we kicked off our volunteer recruitment campaign, our training courses went live and our volunteers got out and about with their survey sheets. As this was our first year we focussed on the following areas for surveys:
Birds - farmland, wading, woodland
River bank - aquatic mammals, river birds, invasive species
Reptile - pilot reptile surveys
Surveyors walked a 1km transect in randomised locations across the AONB, recording the presence of our target species. Each transect was walked twice and the presence of a specific set of species was noted. The Wild Watch species list was drawn up in conjunction with local and national wildlife experts, taking into account a wide variety of factors, including their conservation status, ease of ID and suitability for habitat suitability modelling.
A total of 64 bird surveys were carried out through a combination of professional ecologist surveys and volunteer surveys. A total of 40 River Surveys were carried out, all by volunteers and 11 reptile surveys through a combination of AONB staff and consultants. This included two recce sessions to assess where refugia will be placed next year. In total 54 volunteer surveys were carried out by 31 survey volunteers.
There is also a fair bit of 'behind the scenes' work. Before we could even get out and about into the AONB we had to arrange permission to access land for the surveys - this equated to access permission for 53 transects, contacting in excess of 70 landowners. It was a complicated but satisfying job! As a big part of the project is working with local people, landowners, naturalists, families and more to spread the Wild Watch word, we also had a fantastic season of training and events, running or presenting at 44 events and engaging with 753 people.
River bank surveys started in June/July and went on right through until September. The bar chart below shows the numbers of each Wild Watch species recorded on our river bank transects:
Sadly the most commonly recorded species was Himalayan balsam (so much so it warranted its own chart!), interestingly on The Wild Watch transects Japanese knotweed and Giant hogweed were not recorded. The chart below shows the Himalayan balsam records, we asked you to record whether it was a small isolated clump (point), continuous along a river bank (line) or a large area (polygon) so these records have been set out below. We've mapped the extent of the Wild Watch Himalayan balsam records, you can see in the image below (a more detailed version here) that we found areas clear of this invasive plant.
River bank survey work will continue in 2018, a key aim is to increase our records of Water vole, Dipper, Grey wagtail and Kingfisher to enable us to carry out Habitat Suitability Modelling on these species after the survey season draws to a close. in the meantime you can download a summary map of this year's records.
The bird surveys got underway in April and were carried out until late June. We worked with both volunteers and a professional ecologist to gather the data. In early April Wold Ecology found a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker near Otley and a couple of days later three Hawfinch at Fountains Abbey! Both of these resident species are now considered as UK rare breeding birds so these records are very significant. You can read more about Wold Ecology's surveys here.
We found the following species:
The eagled eyed of you will have spotted that we have more species on the chart than on our Wild Watch species list, we've listed all species that were recorded during the surveys so we have a record of them for future use. A big part of The Wild Watch project is improving the baseline data set for wildlife records in the AONB. Historically we have found that species records are patchy or non-existent throughout the AONB. We really want to build up the baseline information on what species we have and where they are to help focus our work and improve our knowledge.
A good example is with the Curlew - the map above shows a ‘before and after’ for Curlew records, from the North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre, in this area. The red squares are 1km grid squares that Curlew had been recorded in before the project started. The green squares are the 1km grid squares The Wild Watch project found Curlew in. As you can see just the 2017 survey season has significantly increased the number of Curlew records available to us. As we start to do this for the entire Wild Watch species list we will have a much better picture of where our special species are living.
All of this year's data has now been passed onto Anna Berthinussen at Conservation First. Anna is a specialist in Habitat Suitability Modelling. She will be looking at this year's data to start selecting the species we carry out the next stage of analysis. We hope to have an update from her soon.