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Developments and future directions

The strategic aim of the NBMP is to deliver a world-leading, cost-effective citizen science programme supported by motivated volunteers, providing high quality data able to inform evidence needs, policy-relevant questions and metrics of bat population status, change and distribution. Here is a summary of the some of the work undertaken in 2016 to further this aim, and work planned for 2017.

The British Bat Survey

BCT is collaborating with UCL, the University of Oxford and the British Trust for Ornithology to develop a new bat survey for the NBMP, the British Bat Survey (BBatS). This survey will incorporate the latest developments in bat detector technology, bat call identification and population trend analysis to increase the number of bat species for which we are able to produce robust population trends and improve the utility of NBMP data for monitoring, planning, conservation and research.

This summer will be launching a small scale pilot of BBatS in Scotland in collaboration with the BTO. This will build on the BTO’s highly successful Southern Scotland Bat Survey. This pilot will test the IT infrastructure and working arrangements required for BCT and the BTO to jointly administer the survey.

Alongside this pilot, a partnership between BCT, UCL, BTO and the University of Oxford secured an Innovation Award from the Natural Environment Research Council to develop a suite of software and hardware tools needed to roll out BBatS nationwide. This includes an open-source automatic wildlife sound recognition tool, a low-cost acoustic sensor and a data submission and feedback system. These tools will also benefit a wide community of other users in industry, academia and government.

Sunset Sunrise Survey

In 2016 we relaunched the Sunset Sunrise Survey with a simpler methodology, a more engaging and educational recording form and a new online data submission system. Read more about the relaunched survey here.

Online data submission

Use of the NBMP online data submission portal has continued to increase, allowing further savings in staff times and resources for the NBMP. Currently 73.4% of NBMP volunteers have signed up for online accounts (up from 62% in 2015) and 774 survey packs were downloaded in 2016 (up from 28 in 2015). Sixty four percent of data returns for core survey sites were made online (up from 59% in 2015).

In previous years NBMP survey routes were plotted on paper maps, making it difficult to access and use the spatial information they contained. Since the launch of the online portal, NBMP volunteers have been able to create a digital version of their routes. We have been working to digitise our paper archive of historic routes and after several years of effort the majority of this work is now complete. In 2017 we will be building new functionality into our online portal to enable us to store and interrogate this historic dataset for the first time.

Improving UK Biodiversity Indicator C8. Mammals of the wider countryside (bats)

In 2016 JNCC contracted BCT to establish the ‘lifecycle’ of roost sites within the NBMP; how this may affect the reliability of trends calculate from Roost Count data; implement a harmonized method for producing biodiversity indicators from combined species trends; and investigate how the inclusion of data from different NBMP surveys and species affects the magnitude, direction and precision of the UK Biodiversity Indicator C8: Mammal of the wider countryside (bats).

This work suggested that ‘roost switching’ by pipistrelle species is likely to contribute towards a negative bias in Roost Count trends for these species. Roost switching can negatively bias Roost Count trends as it can result in a zero count being the final value entered into trend analysis for a roost site, and therefore an incorrect negative site trend being included in trend analysis. In 2017 we will be investigating the reliability of Roost Count trends further (see here), and reviewing the production of the C8 indicator to reduce the influence of this negative bias.

Future directions

Modelling the drivers of population change in bats

BCT, in partnership with Dr Nick Isaac at the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology and Prof Kate Jones at UCL, has been awarded a CASE PhD studentship by the Natural Environment Research Council. The studentship will begin in October 2017 and will examine the drivers of population change in bats. Specifically, the project will use NBMP data and modern state-space modelling techniques to address the following objectives:

1. Understand if roost counts provide reliable information about bat population change.
2. Develop maps of bat abundance and how this has changed over time.
3. Reveal whether bat distributions are changing and, if so, why.
4. Reveal the causes of abundance and distribution trends over space and time.

Volunteer engagement and development

We are developing new volunteer engagement, development and training resources.

In 2016 we produced an online bat detector species ID quiz which we shared with bat detector workshop attendees in order to consolidate what they learnt on the workshop and improve their confidence in species identification and taking part in surveys. We also share this with existing NBMP volunteers to help them refresh their skills and encourage more volunteers to take part in our bat detector surveys.

We have developed a new Level 1 NBMP workshop which is being piloted and rolled out in 2017. This is designed to enable attendees to feel confident in basic bat species ID and their ability to carry out the NBMP Waterway Survey. Our long-running "Using Your Ears" bat detector workshop is now designated as the Level 2 NBMP workshop. A future aim will be to offer the Level 1 followed by the Level 2 workshop in target workshop locations so that volunteers can choose their appropriate level of training and attend both workshops in order to progress their learning.

The NBMP e-bulletin "Bat Monitoring Post" is being relaunched as a bigger bulletin containing more content designed to engage, support, inform and inspire. It is sent to everyone who signs up for the NBMP. Regular features will include a Q&A with an NBMP volunteer, book and equipment reviews, focus on NBMP facts and figures from a country or region within the UK, and focus on ways in which NBMP data have contributed to science and conservation. This new look-bulletin is being published on a two-monthly basis from April 2017.

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