Citizen Science in London
Richmond upon Thames is situated 10 miles southwest of Central London. The River Thames runs for over 10 miles through the borough and the town is the starting point for a scenic nature walk along the Thames. The Duke of Northumberland's River (DNR) runs for approximately four kilometers from where it leaves the River Crane and leads into the Thames. This river channel dates back to the 1500s as a mill stream and water supply for the region.
The Richmond Council, along with the Friends of the River Crane Environment (FORCE), sought to widen the footpath along the DNR by moving the fence surrounding the Council Central Depot eastward. This entailed the removal of some trees which in the long term enabled conservation work to strengthen the value of the corridor.
Fifteen miles away, in the Hackney borough of London, the Hackney Council sought to renovate Abney Park Chapel in Abney Park Cemetery. The Abney Park Cemetery opened over 150 years ago in 1840 and is one of the "Magnificent Seven", a term applied to seven private cemeteries in London from the era. Over the years the Chapel had been damaged by water seepage into the chapel walls undermining the integrity of the entire building. The Council wanted to stabilize the Chapel to make it safe for public visits.
The Richmond Council and Hackney Council obtained funding for their respective projects but community groups expressed concern that the local environments were not receiving objective representation during the planning and development processes. The wider problem was that groups in both communities felt unable to provide robust scientific representation for development proposals that affected them and their environments. They therefore commissioned Simlaw Furesfen Associates (SFA) to assess the potential of their respective sites to support roosting, foraging and commuting bats, and to produce a report based on the findings. Employing a team of ecologists would have been too expensive, so SFA needed to teach the community groups to collect high quality data to feed into this assessment. Thus, a unique citizen science project emerged.
The goal of the project was to produce large and robust surveys, involving many survey hours, on limited council derived budgets given to the community groups. The primary stakeholders and volunteers were the members of the following community groups: the Friends Of the River Crane Environment (FORCE) for Richmond and the Abney Park Trust, Abney Park Users Group and members of the Tree Musketeers for the Hackney project.
The Role of Echo Meter Touch
SFA worked with the groups and mapped out a methodology for the surveys. The groups divided into teams of two. Each team was responsible for carrying out a walking transect or monitoring a particular point on a building. Ten surveyors were required in order to generate unbiased spreads of data from across the length of the walking transects. As the funding for the project would not have allowed for these surveyors to be fully paid ecologists, it was essential for SFA to use equipment with which the community groups themselves could generate robust data. The firm chose and purchased the Echo Meter Touch for this project.
"The Echo Meter Touch is a powerful tool for bridging the gap between the world of sound that the bats live in and the surrounding environment of the surveyors", said Daniel Simmons, SFA Principal Ecologist. "The real-time species ID capability would mean the field surveyors could receive live visual feedback from passing bats and keep the surveyors engaged through the process of the long nocturnal transects. By quickly and confidently recording the bat species present, the Echo Meter Touch allows the surveyors to focus on the qualitative behavioral data that they were there to collect." Daniel continues, "Through the real-time auto ID, the surveyors would be empowered through the accelerated learning that the live ID provides – leading to happier participants and thereby better data."
For Simlaw Furesfen Associates, the Echo Meter Touch app's easy to use exporting options, allowed the sound recordings to quickly and easily be analyzed with the Wildlife Acoustics Kaleidoscope Pro software. Thanks to Kaleidoscope Pro's ease-of-use, the post-survey analysis went quickly and smoothly and required very little additional time to produce.
Since the Echo Meter Touch can run on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, the entire bat detector package was delivered well under the cost of other detector/recorder setups.
Advice for Citizen Science Monitoring
In consideration for a Citizen Science project with the Echo Meter Touch, SFA advises to take the time to thoroughly explain the Echo Meter Touch app interface with the surveyor group. Since this project was conducted, Wildlife Acoustics has posted several training videos on their website on the Echo Meter Touch. Be sure to have the group review these videos with the Echo Meter Touch in hand to follow along.
Emphasize that, although the Echo Meter Touch and iPad setup provide visual support during bat surveys, for the citizen scientist, it is primarily an auditory aid when trying to collect behavioral data. Focus on the habitats and the bats, not the colorful display. For the professional bat biologist, the colorful display shows more detail than the ear might pick up, which is very useful for determining the bat species ID in the field.
It is also important that the community groups enjoy the experience and contribute to the process in a meaningful way. The idea of Citizen Science is to generate interest and encourage participation of volunteers by demystifying the equipment used by professionals so that they can organise their own monitoring projects without the need for significant investments in training time and money.
For projects with the Echo Meter Touch, securing the Apple product in a weatherproof case is essential.
Lastly, FSA recommends using several survey forms to provide guidance to the community groups during the survey process. These forms were deemed essential in guiding participants to record the context of the data (precipitation, temperature, etc) submitted to FSA.
Results to Date
Success for this project is particularly related to the groups having a fair representation of their respective concerns; be it the bat commuting and foraging habitats of the River Crane, or the mating roost and foraging resource of the Abney Cemetery Church.
For Richmond, between ten and twelve volunteers participated in each survey. The sites were located on publicly accessible land and in close proximity to the River Crane. It rained quite heavily during one of the surveys, but the Echo Meter Touch modules held up well.
The surveys generated a robust set of data over the summer months during the bat breeding season from the beginning of June to the end of July. Six (possibly seven) species of bats were detected including four passes of a species which had not been detected by consultants working on a related project. Most participants found using the Echo Meter Touch empowering and many gained confidence in their use.
For Hackney, a total of sixteen participants were spread over two surveys around the church. A rare bat was detected which had only once before been recorded (Nathusius' pipistrelle) which has increased community pride in the site. The value of the church structure was confirmed and its use by four bat species was quantified in a way that could be interpreted and comprehended by participants and land managers. The recommendations and mitigation measures will ensure continued ecological functionality.
Scaffold erection and ivy removal has commenced over the winter with close liaison from the council project officer. Building works were programmed to commence in February 2016 in order to cause the least harm. Works at the west elevation will be timed to commence in February and will finish by August, 2016 to avoid short term adverse impacts to the Soprano Pipistrelle; which uses the building to forage and attract mates during the late summer months. A Method of Working statement will be provided to help determine the residual activities, which can safely be undertaken during the summer. Ecological enhancements will be provided in the form of bat boxes and ridge tiles will retain their accessibility.
Simlaw Furesfen Associates has continued to work with the FORCE group, extending the reach of the surveys to a huge 4km stretch of the river! This is a huge success as it means the results produced were effective and genuinely helps the model of professional ecologist and citizen science collaboration.
**Special thanks to Daniel Simmons from Simlaw Ecology who provided the majority of content for this case study. Also many thanks to all the volunteer groups for participation in making this case study even possible.
Also, thanks to: FORCE - Friends of the River Crane Environment, Abney Park Users Group, Abney Park Trust, and The Tree Musketeers.