British Waterways bat twaddle

October 28, 2011

It’s a familiar theme: wildlife surveys which are actually nothing more than PR puffs.

Here’s today’s latest on bats from the annual British Waterways wildlife survey.

I’m sure there’ll be people out there who say ‘it’s just a bit of fun’ or ‘it doesn’t matter, as long as wildlife gets attention. Don’t be such a boring git’.

But actually it does matter: it’s pretty close to lying; it misinforms people (does the Beeb know that?) and it’s certainly a poke in the eye for the thousands of people who take the trouble to join in with carefully organised surveys.

And its a bit of a con for the ordinary people who did it. Would they be amused if they found out that they survey they were told would tell us something about the state of wildlife was actually just a load of rubbish?

And just to reherse why surveys like this are meaningless: the numbers of people doing them year to year varies – so maybe the increase is just because more people were looking; and the times they do the surveys (very important in this case – given we’re talking about bats) are purely down to luck – so maybe this year more people went out in the nice warm evenings than last year and – lo and behold – they saw more bats; and the places surveyed are just places that are close to peoples home – so maybe these are all the worst most urban, most polluted canals with the fewest bats, whereas if people went out to some nice clean canals (well, of course that’s impossible), lets be realistic and say some polluted canal running through an old wood with lots of bat roosts, they’d see even more bats. Or maybe, and you couldn’t make this up, because this year the survey was focussing on bats (not like the previous year when it was bees) so people looked out more for bats.

For all these reasons – surveys like this with no attention to the design of the survey are junk.

Actually what the survey tells us is the 9% more people sent in records of seeing a bat than last year. And that means…..well, 9% more people sent in a record of seeing a bat.

And not that there are 9% more bats.



Kingfisher numbers: up or down?

July 30, 2011

Late last year the papers and the BBC reported that numbers of Kingfisher had gone up between 2009 and 2010 – the source was a survey run by the PR team at British Waterways.

The survey results were, of course, nonsense. Members of the public sent in observations to British Waterways wherever they happened to see a Kingfisher – nothing wrong with that. But neither the number of people recording, the places they visited or the amount of time they spent recording was in any way organised to ensure that there was consistent survey effort between years or that the places visited were representative of the places where Kingfishers live: essential if ‘citizen science’ surveys are to produce data of any value.

So now its good to report the real results – also collected by ‘the public’, but in this case in the carefully organised Breeding Bird Survey run by the British Trust for Ornithology.

Once, the publication of inaccurate PR puff surveys didn’t matter too much when the news became the next day’s chip wrappers or simply disappeared into the ether. They were just a minor slap in the face for people like me who, as well as loving wildlife, think that collecting data is worth doing well and is an important part of good nature conservation. And anyway there was a good chance people would forget the silly stuff and remember the real results. But now the silly stuff remains, practically for ever, on the web.

Oh – and the results? Not what was reported by the Beeb that numbers of Kingfishers had ‘trebled’: rather there was a about a 40% decline in Kingfisher numbers between 2009 and 2010. i.e. they nearly halved.

Last year British Waterways said the ‘increase’ showed that ‘the UK’s freshwater courses…..are cleaner and better able to support a thriving ecosystem’. Presumably they’ll blame the decline on the weather!

King of Fish numbers up in 2010 in England and Wales

June 3, 2011

In 2009 the number of salmon reached an all time ‘since records began’ low in England and Wales.

At the time I pointed out that this wasn’t being reported quite as well as it could have been.

So it’s good to report that the latest 2010 statistics compiled jointly by CEFAS and the Environment Agency show a pleasing up-tic in Salmon numbers. You can see the (very technical) report here.

Of course, one good salmon year doesn’t make a….well, you know what I mean…..but after the 2009 all time low it’s a bit of encouraging news for everyone working to save the King of Fish.

(A techy note: the headline of this report is about a doubling of fish caught. But it’s the estimate of the total number in the rivers that’s the crucial figure because catch is affected by all sorts of things that don’t have much to do with the underlying status of the species: the weather that year, the number of anglers out catching fish and even how good those anglers are at catching salmon).

But it says here we are in drought…..

May 18, 2011

This interesting resource, provided by UCL London, seems to suggest that parts of England are in ‘exceptional drought’.

More drought info from CEH and the Beeb

May 18, 2011

Want to dig more deeply into the history of droughts in Britain from 1800 to 2006?

Then this is the scientific paper for you!

And for once, it’s a free download.

But if you don’t have the time for that – here it is on the Beeb too.

What’s striking in all of this is the scarcity of any information about the ecological effects.

Drought goes global

May 18, 2011

News of the English (non) drought has spread globally with press picking up the main low river flows story in China, Canada and France.

So far, we aren’t picking up any news of impacts on freshwater life generally.

Meanwhile, we’ve published an update of our ‘drought advice’ here.

Drought Watch: there is no drought – official

May 16, 2011

Following the ‘Drought Summit’ today in Whitehall, the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has said we aren’t yet in drought.

You can read more about it here

Amongst others, Natural England will be ‘working with conservation groups to try to reduce the impact [of the dry weather] on wildlife’, so hopefully they’ll be in contact with Pond Conservation soon so we can make offer our advice on what needs to be done. With somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 Priority Ponds across the UK there’s quite a lot of ponds to worry about.

And with more endangered species making use of ponds than either rivers or lakes, we need to be thinking both about big and small freshwaters. The absence of the sort of routine, day-in, day-out, monitoring we take for granted on the river network makes it especially difficult to judge the impact on our smaller waters.

Of course it’s not all doom and gloom – plenty of freshwater plants and animals are adapted to periods of drought. But as well as winners, there will probably be losers too. At this stage it’s hard to predict which will be which.

We’ll be interested to hear from anyone with either good or bad news stories about the effects of the (not quite yet) drought.

Drought Watch

May 15, 2011

According to the Indy, tomorrow there’ll be a meeting in Whitehall to prepare for forthcoming drought.

Read it here:

The April water situation: in detail

May 13, 2011

The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have published their April update on the hydrological situation which makes interesting reading, full of superlatives that will delight all fully paid-up collectors of extreme statistics.

Warmest ever April, driest soils for 50 years and lowest ever river flows for the last week in April.

It seems almost churlish, and a little unfair, to complain about such a splendid set of information.

The UK is of course blessed by many excellent hydrologists but they have for a couple of centuries had one tincy blind spot concerning all those reading this blog. No mention of the P word.

For there is indeed no mention of small freshwaters – still or running – in the hydrological report.

It certainly looks as though in this part of the world some ponds and small streams have dried out early; others seems to be sailing on just as normal. So is it an unusual year for ponds? We don’t really know.

It would be quite unjust, though, to remain on a note in any way critical of the Centre for Hydrology because the researchers working there have, over the years, been some of the most important advocates for advancing understanding of ponds.

Because it is CEH who organise the Countryside Survey which provides vital data on the condition of UK ponds. Pond Conservation works closely together with CEH on this project, and it is impossible to overstate its importance to us from the point of view of our research, campaigning and lobbying.

I noticed one other interesting snippet in the April hydrological report: “Historical rainfall figures indicate a tendency for dry spring periods to be followed by above average summer rainfall“. Oh dear: is that the forecast for a less than barbecue summer?

Drought Watch: dry soils

May 10, 2011

The recent rain hasn’t  completely put a stop to dry weather stories: here’s some science on soils across Europe. See:

All my ponds have now gone up a good inch or two, and I’ve refilled two water butts.