The long-awaited Echo Meter Touch from the American company Wildlife Acoustics should be in this country in time for the 2014 ‘Bat’ season.
Unlike other detectors this system is not a self-contained unit. It is just an ultrasonic microphone that plugs into the Lightning socket on a modern iPhone (iPhone 5), iPad mini or a newer iPad with the Lightning connector. The clever stuff is all done by the software in device the microphones are plugged into.
The new features this system offers are live graphical ‘sonograms’ of the bat calls and the ability to use Wildlife Acoustics ‘voice recognition’ software to identify the species of bat. This is not perfected at present as we have a number of species in the UK that have very similar calls (the genus Myotis) and Wildlife Acoustics are still accumulating recordings that they can develop into signatures for this difficult group. But the promise is there and at least some of the guess-work has been eliminated from the difficult tasks of identifying the species of bat present at a site.
The Echo Meter Touch also used the built-in GPS function of the cellular-enabled Apple devices to log where the calls were made as well as when. This is useful for transect surveys where a route is walked to determine activity in a survey area e.g., the area around a wind turbine or along a proposed road alignment.
Recordings can also be made and other analysis done using additional software. Such records can be used as evidence to accompany a report to clients for use at a public inquiry. There is already a move in Northern Ireland to require submission of a minimum of 2hrs of sound recordings with bat reports in support of planning applications.
This new development is not the answer to all bat survey requirements as there will still be a need for other methods to be employed. For example potential wind farm sites may need remote detectors to be in place and recording for 5 or more nights at a time to monitor bat activity close to turbine locations.
Using a single microphone to gauge activity has an in-build limitation of not knowing if ten calls were ten bats or one bat ten times or which way the bat(s) was / were flying. A unique system developed by myself, called BATPODs uses two detectors and, with careful analysis, can eliminate much of this uncertainty and can potentially count the number of bats active in the area. It is also valuable in determining the direction bats are moving along hedgerows for example. The landscape use by bats may be requested as part of a planning statement to assure the decision makers that a development will not have a significant adverse impact on the conservation status of the local bat populations.
The range of technology available now and the way in which it can be applied means that Northern Planners can tailor bat surveys that are both cost-effective and fit for purpose.
Barry Wright BSc (Hons) MCIEEM