Food for Thought at the BES Annual Meeting

The delegates have gathered, the vast array of speakers arrived, the sun is shining- the BES Annual Meeting 2009 has begun!

One of the highlights of our year, the Annual Meeting is taking place at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield. It began yesterday evening with a drinks reception and string quartet to welcome the delegates, before the full programme of events started in earnest this morning. There have been a fascinating array of talks so far, some of the most interesting ones I have managed to attend including:

– ‘Living with Environmental Change (LWEC)’ LWEC is a major programme involving 20 UK organisations funding, undertaking and using environmental research, with a budget for its first five years of activity being £1 billion. Andrew Watkinson highlighted the potential that such a programme offers for ecologists to really engage with effective policy-relevant research and its delivery.

– ‘Assessing the Impact of English Agri-Environment Schemes on Lowland Farmland Birds’ The first results from an assessment of the UK Government’s ‘Entry-level Stewardship (ELS) Scheme, a high-uptake, non-targeted scheme which currently covers 5 million hectares of UK farmland, involving 34,000 participants and costing £180 million a year in compensation costs. One major caveat to note in any assessment is that the scheme is only three years old, but indications are that at this stage, the ELS has had no influence on lowland farmland bird populations. Given that many of these populations have been severely reduced, the scheme should be boosting populations if it is to make a worthwhile difference.

– ‘Ecological Engineering Rock Pools onto Existing Seawalls’ A fascinating presentation sharing the results of an experiment in Sydney to increase the levels of biodiversity to be found on urban shorelines, where sea walls are frequently almost devoid of any significant biodiversity. By attaching flowerpots of various sizes to the sea wall at varying heights, the authors were able not only to increase existing species abundance but also to provide habitat for species which were previously unrecorded on the seawall tidal area.

– ‘Willow Tit Decline linked to Changes in British Woodland’ The Willow Tit has declined by 77% in the UK since 1994. Whilst stable populations have remained in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, the South has seen catastrophic population declines. Using surveys and habitat measurements, the authors found evidence confirming that the willow tit is a scrub specialist, and that patches containing scrub (especially willow, alder and hawthorn) were consistently favoured. The most important predictive factor for the presence of willow tit was a high amount of vegetation cover at the 2-4m level i.e. scrub. More studies need to be done, but it was proposed that there is less scrub in declining population areas. The causes for scrub decline are unclear.