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Wild Frontier Ecology takes to the trees!

  • August 10, 2021
  • Blog

Two members of the WFE team can now be found swinging about the trees after successfully completing the City and Guilds NPTC Level 2 Award in Tree Climbing and Aerial Rescue.

In the beautiful grounds of Shrublands Hall near Ipswich, practice trees were roped up and ascended by one of our bat licensed Ecologists, Mary Goddard, and Arboriculturist Alex Lowe. Whilst the trees were smallish to start, their ambitions were large and soon they were scaling bigger and bigger trees with increasing “elegance” and “style”… Safety is always put first – they don’t really swing around the trees, it’s more controlled than that! WFE use the Double Rope Technique (DRT) for climbing, our climbers are fully kitted out with brand new LOLER compliant climbing gear and both have both passed First Aid training courses.

The climbing duo are now putting their skills to use looking for bat roosts in trees and aerial inspections for tree health and safety.


Bat roosts in trees

This method of surveying trees for bats can follow an Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey where potential niches have been identified and the safety of the tree for climbing assessed. Where moderate and high potential trees that are safe to climb are identified, aerial inspection surveys can be undertaken to thoroughly examine potential roost features. This can substantially reduce the need for further survey work.

Dusk or dawn bat activity surveys for trees have a low success rate in terms of finding active roosts and can be especially difficult when trees are in leaf – which is the majority of the bat survey season. Climbing inspections, on the other hand, allow us to get up close and personal with potential niches and with the help of an endoscope, roosting bats can be observed directly or their droppings discovered and collected for analysis. Sometimes niches are found to be unsuitable for bats despite appearing suitable from the ground. In these cases, trees can be downgraded to low bat roost potential and further surveys no longer required, provided that best practice mitigation measures such as soft felling are followed.


Aerial tree inspections

Our new climbing abilities also allow us to better inspect features of concern following a tree risk assessment survey.

WFE’s Arboriculturist can undertake detailed ground level surveys of individual trees or systematic inspections of entire tree populations, identifying any features which may pose an unacceptable risk to people or property. If necessary, features of concern such as cavities, fungal decay or splits can be examined more closely through an aerial inspection to provide a more detailed understanding of the health and safety of a particular tree.


To find out more about WFE’s tree climbing services or enquire about our costs, please contact us at or on 01328 855680.

Ancient and veteran tree habitat survey in Norfolk

Veteran sweet chestnut

WFE was fortunate enough to be asked to evaluate the fantastic collection of ancient and veteran trees at Heydon Hall in Norfolk; part of a wider piece of work to put together a Parkland Management Plan. Of the 600+ individual trees scattered in grassland or grouped together in avenues, just over 60 were identified as ancient or veteran. WFE undertook an ancient tree survey using the Specialist Survey Method to determine the diversity of fungi, epiphytes (lichens, mosses, climbers), invertebrates, birds and mammals supported by the tree.

A diversity of fungi were identified, with each tree on average supporting 4.5 fungi species including heartwood rotters such as Chicken-of-the-Woods Laetiporus sulphureus,  skin like coverings on standing deadwood such a Peniophora quercina and even microfungi growing on lichens such as Illiosporopsis christiansenii.

Oyster mushroom on horse chestnut

Lichens and moss were abundant, with each tree supporting on average 10 lichen species and 2 moss species with several identifications of possible veteran specialist lichens. Many of the veteran and ancient trees had moderate or high potential for roosting bats – an important consideration in the planning of any tree work as part of future parkland management.

WFE also undertook an extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey of the entire parkland. Taking the ancient and veteran tree survey and ecological information together, advice was then provided on how best to manage the parkland for biodiversity. Focusing in particular on how to protect and enhance the existing valuable features such as the open grown trees, grasslands, ponds and woodland.

WFE’s combined ecological and arboricultural expertise were very useful for this project. A comprehensive report on our findings and advice for both trees and ecology was produced. We are excited to see how this feeds into a new Parkland Management Plan and benefits biodiversity in the Parkland going forward.


Phase 1 survey of a brownfield site

phase 1 brownfield site

Derelict buildings sometimes require bat roost assessments

An extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey was commissioned for a site in south Norfolk. The site consisted of 0.3ha of unused land, including an old dilapidated building and several trees with bordering woodland, farmland and existing development. WFE undertook a site survey to classify the habitats to JNCC standards, and with the methods being ‘extended’ to include a general evaluation of potential habitats for any protected or valued species. The habitats on the site and surrounding area were classified, hedgerows were appraised, buildings and trees were inspected for bats and considerations were made concerning other protected species.

All the information we collected was mapped, supported by target notes and photographs detailing protected species issues. Further protected species issues were ruled out in this case and this fed into a final report for planning. If further surveys had been necessary, WFE could have produced what is known as a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) and a final report produced after necessary surveys had been completed.

Waterbird disturbance surveys at the Upper Nene Valley SPA

WFE was commissioned to undertake a study on disturbance of waterbirds in the Upper Nene Valley Special Protection Area (SPA).  We planned the surveys carefully by visiting the site with the client beforehand, and then repeatedly visited four gravel pit sites to monitor human activity and disturbance at each site. Our surveys recorded the impact of disturbance to birds present, routes used by the public and birds using each waterbody.

With urban populations set to grow in Northamptonshire, this study provided information on the impacts of public disturbance on the populations of bird species for which the SPA is designated. These include bittern, coot, gadwall, great crested grebe, mute swan and tufted duck. We recorded the level of response of the waterbirds present to each disturbance. This showed how the birds were being disturbed by different activities.

Waterbird disturbance survey bird

Wild Frontier’s ornithologists surveyed disturbance to waterbirds in the Upper Nene Valley SPA

A variety of activities were seen across the sites including cycling and sailing. The largest proportion of disturbance was at weekends and the highest levels of activity and disturbance were mid-morning. Walkers and dog walkers were found to use the sites most often. These two groups were found to cause most of the disturbance.

These findings meant we could advise the client on the activities at each site and ways to reduce impacts. The client was pleased with the work undertaken and can act on our survey results to encourage more responsible use of the SPA.

Surveying trees for bat roost potential

  • January 29, 2020
  • Blog

When trees may need to be removed or worked on, their potential to be a home to bats has to be considered.

The first step in evaluating a tree for bats is assessing the number and quality of features where bats could potentially roost in the tree. Good bat roost features can include woodpecker holes, hollow stems and cracked branches to name just a few.

Wild Frontier Ecology undertook potential bat roost surveys for 300 individual trees and 23 groups of trees growing at a former RAF base in Cambridgeshire where a development was proposed. Trees were rated as having either low, medium or high potential for roosting bats.

Tree with bat roost potential survey

This Lombardy poplar has high bat roost potential. (Left: multiple cavities in the stem. Right: decay and crevices in the stem)

This information was provided to the developer along with a full arboricultural assessment assessing the quality of the trees for planning purposes. Generally, it was those trees which had poorer arboricultural value and limited future life expectancy that had higher bat roost potential. Wild Frontier’s combined specialisms in ecology and arboriculture helped to provide the developer with advice on which trees were suitable for retention and which could be removed.  

Future work on the site will include bat emergence surveys for those trees which are both targeted for removal and have potential for roosting bats. A subsequent application to Natural England for a European Protection Species licence can then be made to cover the required tree felling works and secure mitigation.


Long Stratton area action plan

Ecological Enhancement Advice targeted by habitat

WFE provided enhancement advice for a variety of habitats on site

WFE was commissioned to provide an ecological assessment of a proposed bypass and 1,800 house development at Long Stratton in Norfolk. We worked with the development team from an early stage on the location of development and greenspace. Ongoing ecological surveys were performed to refine project design, and further define any constraints and opportunities for enhancement.

Once surveys were completed, WFE provided a valued input into the landscaping design, advising significant ecological enhancements into the scheme which reflected the species and habitats shown to be present during surveys. This targeted approach will maximise the biodiversity net gain on the developed site. Considerations for the development included circular walks, cycle paths, wildlife planting, provision for arable plants and retention and reconnection of other important features such as ponds.

Wintering bird surveys in an SPA

  • January 27, 2020
  • Blog

WFE was commissioned to undertake a study of foraging wintering birds on the River Deben Estuary SPA (Special Protection Area) in Suffolk, focusing on a particular area where a freshwater flow was pumped from a sluice at night into the river from surrounding arable land. Natural England were concerned that plans to redirect this waterflow away from the estuary may impact non-breeding waterfowl species such as brent goose and redshank for which the Deben is an internationally important site. Water birds have been found to preferentially associate with freshwater flows over mudflats due to accessibility of fresh water for bathing and drinking and an increase in invertebrate prey densities.

wintering bird surveys

The River Deben is an internationally important site for bird species such as redshank and brent goose

The study compared the ornithological importance of the outfall site, which has intermittent flowing freshwater, with two control sites, one comprised an area of mudflat with no freshwater influence, while the other control was an area of mudflat with a permanent freshwater gravity flow. Two nocturnal surveys and one daylight survey were conducted per month between November and March on all three areas and involved the counting and identifying all bird species present with the assistance of thermal imaging cameras.

The study discovered that the area with the permanent freshwater flow hosted a significantly greater density of birds than the other two sites, which both had a very similar density of birds associated with both the nocturnal surveys and diurnal surveys. It was concluded that the site with the intermittent freshwater water flow had a negligible influence on the local bird communities providing equivalent habitat to a creek with no freshwater input and therefore the removal of the water flow would have no negative impacts on the wintering bird populations listed as interest features of the Deben Estuary SPA.

A new water pipeline at Thetford

  • January 27, 2020
  • Blog

In 2018 Wild Frontier Ecology undertook an extended Phase 1 habitat survey along a proposed water pipeline route around Thetford in Norfolk. The route was proposed to go through an industrial estate, agricultural fields, pastures, grasslands, hedges and trees.

To assess the habitats along the route, and the potential for any impacts on protected species, Wild Frontier Ecology first carried out a desk survey. This comprised a search for conservation sites within 2km of the proposed route and a data search with the Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service for species records. Fourteen statutorily designated nature conservation sites and 16 County Wildlife Sites were found with three of the County Wildlife Sites directly intersecting the route. 6,450 species records, including reptiles and a variety of bird species were also found within the 2km buffer.

Next the route was subject to a walkover survey where all habitats within a 100-250m buffer of the proposed pipeline were mapped and considered for their potential to host protected species such as great crested newts, reptiles and stone curlews. Ponds were also recorded and assessed for their suitability for great crested newts.

phase 1 water pipeline

An excerpt of a Phase 1 Habitat Map for the pipeline route

Based on the findings of the habitat survey, the client was advised that further great crested newt, reptile and stone curlew surveys should be undertaken to ensure impacts on these species were fully considered. No great crested newts were found in any of the surveyed ponds, a population of grass snakes was recorded at one County Wildlife Site and a stone curlew nest recorded just to the north of the route.

phase 1 water pipeline

Adam contemplates an early bath

Subsequent advice on how to avoid the recorded ecological features allowed the client to opt for directionally drilling under the County Wildlife Sites.

Wild Frontier’s final report then summarised the anticipated ecological impacts for the purposes of planning. Tailored construction methods and seasonal restrictions to the work were advised based on the survey findings. Altogether the package of survey works and clear practical advice meant that the project was assessed to have a neutral ecological impact in the long term, fulfilling the client’s ecological obligations.

Household waste recycling centre extension

  • September 19, 2019
  • Blog

Common lizard at Mildenhall

WFE provided an ECoW to oversee the extension of Mildenhall Household Waste Recycling Centre. Following pre-construction surveys, which found a small population of common lizards, carefully timed clearance of vegetation was advised to ensure minimal impacts to breeding birds and reptile species.

Prior to clearance works a suitably qualified ECoW walked over the site and confirmed that no birds were nesting. Vegetation was then cut to ground level under ECoW supervision and maintained at a low height to discourage common lizards and other terrestrial animal species from using the area.  

The ECoW was present on site whilst the ground layer was stripped and tree stumps removed. The remaining common lizards were successfully trans-located by hand away from the worked area.

9 turbine windfarm site in Essex

  • September 19, 2019
  • Blog
Graham watching turf stripping

Graham watching turf stripping

WFE provided ECoW on a 9 turbine windfarm site in Essex. The ECoW works involved pre-construction surveys for breeding and wintering birds, badgers, water voles and reptiles.

The turbines were delivered to the site by barge and tracks from the marine landing were upgraded. The site of the windfarm is arable fields with drainage ditches. These were crossed by new and upgraded access tracks.

As ECoW for the project, WFE oversaw the implementation of habitat management via vegetation clearance to deter water voles and reptiles from ditch crossing points and on the sea wall near the marine landing.

We also oversaw the demarcation of buffers around key features and the execution of mitigation strategies for badger, water voles and reptiles. As the site was near an SPA, observations on brent geese were conducted during the delivery of the turbines, with the potential to modify the deliveries to prevent any disturbance.

All works were completed on site and the wind farm is operating. WFE are now involved in post-construction monitoring of the development.

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