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Preventing Failures in Nature Conservation: Lessons from Bat Bridges and Nest Signage
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Preventing Failures in Nature Conservation: Lessons from Bat Bridges and Nest Signage


At the time, it appeared to be a viable solution: constructing metal bridges over congested roads so that bats would mistake them for trees. The argument was that the bats would attempt to fly over the pylons and, being deceived into flying at a higher altitude, would steer clear of being hit by trucks and buses on the road below. This would effectively solve a major issue with wildlife in the UK.

The idea was convincing, and in order to make it a reality, a sum of £2 million was invested in constructing 15 bridges for bats throughout the UK, spanning from Cumbria to Cornwall. However, according to Professor William Sutherland from Cambridge University’s Conservation Science Group, there was one issue: the bridges were ineffective.

Researchers studying conservation discovered that bats, ranging from small pipistrelles to common noctules, were not fooled by metal gantries that were meant to be mistaken for trees. This led to them continuing to fly at low, dangerous levels above heavily trafficked roads. According to Sutherland, the issue was that the plan was based on belief rather than scientific evidence.

The author claims that a prevalent problem in modern conservation is the inadequate collection and utilization of evidence, resulting in flawed decision-making and squandered resources. To combat this issue, their team has been formed with the goal of promoting the proper use of scientific evidence when implementing measures to enhance biodiversity and safeguard endangered species. It is emphasized that sound evidence is crucial in the adoption of effective strategies.

An illustration of effective and supported methods for preserving species can be seen in the success of the large blue butterfly’s conservation. Phengaris arion was nearly extinct in the UK at the end of the previous century, but through meticulous evaluation of its decline, it was successfully reintroduced.

The prominent blue butterfly depends on red ants for the care of its offspring. The caterpillar is a parasite and consumes the larvae of red ants. “The significant finding, revealed by ecologist Jeremy Thomas of Oxford, was that large blues exclusively targeted Myrmica sabuleti ants, which were facing a decrease in population.”

A Large Blue butterfly

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“Through altering grazing methods in the grasslands inhabited by M sabuleti, the population of both the species and the large blue butterfly were able to recover. This was accomplished by recognizing the danger, experimenting with solutions, and implementing the findings.”

Sutherland emphasized the importance of adhering to strict protocols when gathering evidence in medicine, aviation, and building design. These industries have strict procedures in place that must be followed before any action is taken, whether it be at the start of an operation or during take-off. Similarly, in conservation, it is crucial to have a well-defined set of procedures in place before launching a project or taking action to ensure the effectiveness of our actions.

A study conducted in Finland examined the effectiveness of 10 actions taken to safeguard European birds of prey, including the Montagu’s harrier and white-tailed eagle. Out of these actions, six were deemed highly effective, two had no impact, and two were found to be detrimental, according to Sutherland.

Moving raptor nests to enclosed spaces was highly effective in safeguarding young birds. However, marking nests to alert observers of the presence of fledglings turned out to be detrimental, as studies revealed a significant decrease in chick survival rates. This serves as a clear example of the importance of implementing evidence-based measures and conducting thorough research in order to protect raptors.

The Cambridge team collects pertinent information from various journals to create a database of over 3,000 review articles in order to offer this service. By doing so, individuals can easily find solutions for conservation issues by simply referring to the database.

“If this approach had been applied to addressing the issue of bats and road-crossings, there would have been numerous potential solutions worth considering, such as building underpasses and culverts.”

According to Sutherland, it is essential for conservation efforts to be perceived as successful. He compares people’s support for conservation to their donations to cancer research, where they have confidence in the current practices but still expect continued progress and improvement through further research and development by scientists and doctors.

Similarly, conservation efforts also strive for improvement. However, it is crucial to establish effective decision-making methods to enhance biodiversity. While some groups, like the Woodland Trust, excel in this aspect, others often fall short.

Future projects

Wildfires spreading in Vina del Mar in Chile this month.

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In the future, conservation scientists will need to address various concerns by using evidence-based approaches.

Earthworms play a key role in soil fertility and nutrient recycling. Studies suggest their numbers are now declining dramatically in the UK, and populations need to be restored.

Several proposals have been suggested for utilizing oceans as a means of absorbing higher levels of carbon dioxide, such as increasing algal growth through fertilization. However, it is necessary to accurately evaluate their effects on a global scale.

As the global temperature rises, the occurrence of wildfires and biomass burning is predicted to increase. Effectively managing the emission of hazardous aerosols will necessitate strategic planning.

Source: theguardian.com