Search our websites
and 37 other
UK Natural History sites


The SNS Conference Feb 15th 2014:     Nature’s New Scientists

This was our previous conference nearly two years ago,
but why not attend a virtual conference? You can still watch the presentations by clicking on the links below to see videos taken on the day. Or scroll down to see the full conference program.

Conference presentation videos, click on your choice of speaker:

Miniature tracking devices & bird migration
Electronic tagging & Fish Migration
Camera traps for mammals
Perspectives on technology for biological recording
Stag Beetles: Flight Capacity & Dispersal
Bats: Automated acoustic monitoring
With all the speakers


"I thought it was one of the best run and high tech conferences I have ever been to!"
Tom August, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Click here to read a review of the conference by a member of the public

Ben Heather's Flickr Photos


This was the Conference Program

(Scroll down for speakers details)

09:30         Arrival and registration (Tea and coffee available from the cafe)

10:00         Welcome and introduction to the day by the chair of the morning session

10:15         Tales of the unexpected - how miniature tracking devices are revolutionzing our understanding of bird migration
Dr Phil Atkinson, British Trust for Ornithology

10:55         Fish Migration: modern methods for answering ancient questions
Dr Julian Metcalfe, CEFAS

11:35         Tea and coffee (available from the cafe)

11:55         Binoculars for mammalogists – what can the rise of the camera trap do for mammal monitoring in the UK?
Dr Marcus Rowcliffe, ZSL Institute of Zoology

12.35         Perspectives on Technology for Biological Recording
Dr Tom August, Centre for Hydrology and Ecology

13.15         Lunch – a range of options is available from the café or bring your own

14:15         Research on the Flight Capacity and Dispersal of Stag Beetles
Colin Hawes
Colin, an SNS member stepped into the breach when Dr Dave Chesmore, University of York was unable to give his presentation because of the weather
14.55         Piloting a novel approach for large-scale automated acoustic monitoring of bats
Dr Stuart Newson, British Trust for Ornithology

15:35         Tea and coffee ( available from cafe)

16:00         Questions / discussion, Chair of afternoon session

16:45         Close of conference

Presentation summaries and speaker biographies

Tales of the unexpected - how miniature tracking devices are revolutionising our understanding of bird migration

Dr Phil Atkinson, British Trust for Ornithology

      The ecology of many of our summer migrants once they leave the UK is very poorly understood. In this talk I will be showing how the use of small tracking devices is revolutionising our understanding not only of migration in general, but also the variation in strategies both within and between individuals. I will illustrate this using three species we have tracked – Cuckoo, Swift and Nightjar and show the tracking has thrown new light on how birds prepare for the long spring migration over the Sahara Desert in spring.

      Phil Atkinson is head of the international research team at BTO. The teams’ work focuses on understanding whether factors outside the UK could be responsible for the catastrophic declines recently observed in many species of migrant birds. Our work involves a combination of fieldwork in Africa and remote tracking to better understand migration strategies and stopover ecology. The tracking is providing new information on how migrants use the different habitats there throughout out winter and also how landuse change in sub-Saharan West Africa could be impacting our migrant birds.

Fish Migration: modern methods for answering ancient questions
Dr Julian Metcalfe, CEFAS

      Marine habitats are tremendously diverse environments that vary widely both in space and time. To make best use of their environment, fish often move between different habitats at different times in their life history, but “observing” (in its widest sense) how marine fish move and function in their natural environment has always been a fundamental problem in understanding their migrations and population ecology.

      Cefas has a long history of using electronic tags to overcome this limitation by monitor the movements and behaviour of individual free-ranging fish in the open sea for periods from a few days to well over a year. Such work is yielding substantial advances in our understanding of the stock structure and dynamics of both commercially exploited fish species and those of conservation concern. I will illustrate this first by reference to our research on plaice stocks in the North Sea and then broaden out to consider other work on cod, basking sharks and eels and how ours results relate both to understanding the fundamentals of fish ecology, and to improving rational management and conservation.

      Julian grew up and was educated in Hampshire. He studied biology as an undergraduate at the University of East Anglia and gained his PhD studying fish physiology at the University of Birmingham. He remained in Birmingham for 6 years as a postdoctoral research fellow working on various aspects of blood flow regulation in fish and other animals before moving to the Cefas Laboratory in Lowestoft (originally the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food’s Fisheries Laboratory) in 1987 to take up a position working on the physiology and behaviour of fish migration.

      Since joining the Lowestoft Laboratory Julian has been in volved in a wide range of pioneering research into the behavioural ecology of a number of marine fish species, including plaice, cod, thornback rays, basking sharks and eels and has been involved in the design and development of cutting-edge archival electronic tag technology that is now marketed world-wide. He is an Honorary Reader in the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA and lectures regularly to a postgraduate course on the Ecology of Animal Migration at the University of Lund in Sweden.

Piloting a novel approach for large-scale automated acoustic monitoring of bats
Dr Stuart Newson, British Trust for Ornithology

      Our understanding of bat populations has been hampered by the difficulty in distinguishing different species of bats, the expertise that is required to do so and the time consuming process of analysing sound files containing bat calls.
At a good site, it is possible to produce several thousand sound files over a night. With developments in passive bat detectors and software for automating the capture and analysis of sound files, there is the potential to collect and analyse large volumes of data. This information is essential for the targeting of conservation action. However, whilst technology has moved on, the cost of the equipment remains too high to be widely used in large-scale monitoring programmes.
      Here Stuart Newson provides an overview of a novel approach (trialed across Norfolk in 2013 and known as the Norfolk Bat Survey, for enabling the wider public to take advantage of recent advances in technology for automating the capture and analysis of acoustic monitoring data for bats. Working in partnership with a broad range of national and local organisations, nature reserve visitor centres and local libraries, the Norfolk Bat Survey provides a mechanism for enabling anyone in the county to be within 15-20 miles of a “Bat Monitoring Centre”, from which a high quality passive detector can be borrowed, and a system in place for analyzing these data and providing timely feedback to volunteers. The aim is that by doing this we will improve the ability of biological surveillance data for bats in the county to provide information on the status of species, and over time a representative and robust measure of change.

      Stuart Newson is a Senior Research Ecologist at the BTO, where he is mainly involved in survey design and analyses of data from large national citizen science surveys and demographic data on wild bird and mammal populations.
      Based in Bristol’s Mammal Research Group for his PhD (on birds) in the late 1990s and working alongside members of Bristol’s Bat Ecology and Bioacoustics Lab, Stuart has a long running interest in bats. Since moving to Norfolk, Stuart has become more involved in local bat work, and as Committee member of Norwich Bat Group, has been involved in organising events, in supervising MSc projects on bats at the University of East Anglia, and in working to develop collaborations and interest in bats more widely in Norfolk.

Perspectives on Technology for Biological Recording
Dr Tom August, Centre for Hydrology and Ecology

      Technology has always played a big role in natural history and biological recording. Microscopes opened doors to an unseen world in the 1600’s and binoculars revolutionised people’s ability to observed wildlife in the early 1900’s. The current computer driven revolution is arguable the most important technological advance yet. From digital cameras and GPS units to smart phone apps and sound recognition we are now able to record a greater quantity and diversity of data than ever before. However, more data does not mean better data. To handle the increasing number of biological records, technologies have been developed to ensure quality by applying intelligent filters and involving taxonomic experts in verification. With data stored in large centralised databases, data dissemination is now near real-time. Once restricted to weighty atlases, it is now easy to share information through websites and mobile phone technology, placing up-to-date information at the fingertips of those that need it. Despite these revolutionary advances in technologies over the past 15 years it is important not to get carried away. While technologies will play a growing role in wildlife recording they are only tools, and as such will always rely on a community of expert naturalists.

      Tom works at the Biological Records Centre where he and others to use volunteer collected data to answer important questions about wildlife in the UK. He has recently worked on the State of Nature report, DEFRA’s biodiversity indicators, and red-listing analyses for plants and aculeates. Whilst Tom’s PhD was a field and laboratory based study of bats he now spends his time undertaking statistical analyses and developing software. One of Tom’s main interests is in the potential of technology to break down the barriers between scientists and members of the public.

Automated Bioacoustic Identification of Species
Dr Dave Chesmore, University of York

Dr Chesmore could not attend due to the weather so SNS member and Stag Beetle Researcher Colin Hawes gave a presentation on his use of micro miniature electronic tracking devices to monitor Stag Beetle dispersal.

      Many species make sounds either deliberately for communications or as a by-product of activity such as movement and feeding. These sounds can be utilised with artificial intelligence techniques to create electronic systems capable of automatically detecting, identifying and recording species. The talk will discuss the generation of sounds and their use in identification. It will include several case studies including Speckled Bush-cricket activity loggers, general Orthoptera recognition and automated detection of alien invasive pests such as the Asian Longhorn Beetle.

      Dave is an electronic engineer by profession and a Senior Lecturer in the Electronics Department at York University specialising in the application of electronics to ecology and entomology for species identification. He is also an entomologist specialising in Lepidoptera and Orthoptera, and is the Yorkshire Naturalists'’ Union Orthoptera and Symphyta Recorder. He is a Chartered Environmentalist, a Fellow of the Institute of Agricultural Engineers, Fellow of the Institute of Acoustics and Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. Recent projects have been the development of data loggers for long term recording Speckled Bush-crickets and systems for early detection of the larvae of Asian Longhorn beetles in imported wood and trees (e.g. Bonsai).

Binoculars for mammalogists – what can the rise of the camera trap do for mammal monitoring in the UK?
Dr Marcus Rowcliffe, ZSL Institute of Zoology

Anyone interested in mammals can only look with envy at the richness of data enjoyed by ornithologists. The problem for mammal people, of cour se, is the relative scarcity and difficulty of observing many mammal species. However, in the last decade or so, there has been a revolution in the availability and affordability of camera traps – remotely triggered cameras, placed in the environment to capture candid pictures of terrestrial mammals going about their business undisturbed. Monitoring programmes world-wide are beginning to catch up with the potential for camera traps to move our understanding of mammal behaviour, ecology and status huge strides forward. In this talk I’ll describe some recent developments in this area, and discuss the possibility for spreading this revolution to the UK.

Marcus is a research fellow at the ZSL Institute of Zoology in London, where he is interested in understanding the drivers and impacts of hunting and habitat modification, as well as in improving methods for monitoring rare and elusive animals, especially through camera trapping. He is currently supervising eight PhD students working on topics involving the use of camera traps in six countries on four continents. He also somehow manages to co-direct an MSc course in Conservation Science in partnership with Imperial College.

Conference sponsored by The Robert Stebbings Consultancy & Supported by: