Throughout its 130-year history, the RSPB has developed technology solutions for all sorts of challenges. From brilliantly simple inventions to cutting-edge equipment, we are continuing to champion groundbreaking techniques. When you join the RSPB, your money helps to save nature. Here are eight innovations that are driving our conservation efforts.
Protecting albatrosses at sea
Bird-scaring lines deter albatrosses away from the cables, leading to fewer fatalities. Photo: RSPB (rspb-images.com)
Of the 22 species of albatross on Earth, 15 are threatened with extinction. It is estimated that every five minutes one of these magnificent birds falls victim to bycatch – becoming accidentally killed by industrial fishing equipment. The Albatross Task Force creates simple but highly effective mitigation measures, from modified nets and weighted lines, to the Hookpod (which encases the baited hook until it is below a certain depth) and Tamina Tabla (a towing device that prevents bird-scaring lines from getting tangled). To support these important initiatives and prevent thousands of needless deaths, become a Friend of the Albatross.
Using drones to monitor secretive species
Drones help to monitor the nests of great white egrets, of which only 35 winter annually. Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-image.com)
Drones play an important role in site conservation, allowing us to map the environment quickly and efficiently. At RSPB Ham Wall, we were able to monitor the breeding success of species such as the great white egret, which build nests deep in the reedbed. At RSPB Black Park on Yell, Shetland, drones were used to identify damaged peat bogs in need of re-wetting. Just two hours of flying saved four days of work and hundreds of pounds.
Mapping raptor persecution
The Raptor Map Hub shows the spread of bird crime incidents across the UK.
Data is crucial in the fight against bird crime. In 2018, the RSPB launched an interactive map, showing areas of raptor persecution in the UK. The Raptor Map Hub is a visual summary of our database of incidents, the most comprehensive bird of prey data in the UK. As well as increasing awareness of these often-overlooked crimes, the intelligence is a vital tool for our enforcement partners.
Using sound to save seabirds
Remote activated loudspeakers help protect birds on isolated Coquet Island. Photo: David Wootton (rspb-images.com)
The RSPB’s technical team are busy developing gadgets to protect UK birds in hard-to-reach locations. Automatic recording devices can be set up on remote islands or precarious cliffs to allow wardens to monitor burrow-nesting nocturnal species. On Ramsey Island, bird calls are played alongside decoy birds, to attract species such as Manx shearwaters and storm petrels to safer nesting sites. On Coquet Island, the warden can activate noises via a loudspeaker, such as a dog bark, to scare away predators such as black-backed gulls and even seals.
New innovations to manage habitat
Keeping a careful balance in the soil helps rare species, such as cotton grass, at RSPB Dungeness. Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
At RSPB Dungeness, an ingenious land management technique has been created. Ash created by the burning of cleared willow was adding nutrients to the naturally poor soil, encouraging bramble, nettles and grasses to crowd out the rare plants that live here. Reserve volunteer Roy Attree invented a raised burning platform that allows ash to be contained within the device. Natural England approved Roy’s invention and recommended it should be used on other sensitive sites.
Citizen science to help our puffins
The Puffarazzi campaign is asking for photos of puffins carrying food. Photo: Colin Wilkinson
The RSPB’s Project Puffin is an incredibly successful initiative, using photos taken by the general public – the “Puffarazzi” – to gather vital data. Analysing 1,400 images of puffins with fish in their bills, Conservation Scientist Ellie Owen gained valuable insight into the puffin’s diet and discovered some interesting geographical variations. The Puffarazzi campaign is returning this year so be sure to send us your snaps!
Building nifty nests
Because they nest on the ground, tern tables help give little terns extra protection. Photo: Kevin Simmonds (rspb-images.com)
Innovations don’t have to involve modern technology. Since the early 1990s, previous warden and volunteer David Mower has been weaving reed nestboxes for bearded tits at RSPB Leighton Moss. Meanwhile, at Langstone Harbour, Site Manager Wez Smith has created a “tern table”: a wooden rectangle topped with a shingle fence to prevent tern chicks tumbling off and keep them safe from high spring tides.
Using smart surveillance
Camera traps are helping to track rare species in the Gola rainforest. Photo: Caroline Thomas (rspb-images.com)
Deep in the Gola Rainforest National Park in Africa, the RSPB’s camera-trap has been collecting data since 2008. As well as capturing images of chimpanzee, Diana monkeys and pygmy hippos, the trap revealed the first photographic evidence of Jentink’s duiker in Sierra Leone. Currently, the thousands of images are manually analysed by scientists and volunteers – an extremely time-consuming process. The RSPB is working with Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence for Earth team to train computer models to identify species in the images and call for greater protection of Gola’s forests.
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