These new survey methods should improve the efficiency of planning processes, thereby benefitting both developers and wildlife.
The researchers’ new report highlights the need for a more rigorous, evidence-based approach to protecting wildlife during development.
Professor Altringham and his colleagues argue that previous work has not been based on good ecological understanding, while a lack of effective monitoring has hidden failure.
Describing bats as ‘the canary in the mine’ – key indicators of biodiversity – the researchers believe more attention should be given to the potential effects of transport infrastructure on biodiversity.
They found that bat activity was much lower close to major roads than in the surrounding countryside. The number of species of bat was also reduced.
Based on a relatively small but representative sample, they also found that existing mitigation structures such as underpasses were frequently not working sufficiently well and wire gantries (bat bridges) were not working at all.
“The study reports some successes on which to build better conservation practice and provides a clear steer on how to make the design and monitoring of future mitigation more effective,” said Professor Altringham, who is Professor of Animal Ecology and Conservation in the School of Biology at Leeds.
He added that better, tried and tested mitigation measures, such as suitable “green” overpasses and underpasses, should prove more cost-effective than existing solutions and – crucially – speed up planning approval processes for major infrastructure projects, not slow them down.
o A landscape scale method using transects to assess the effects of linear infrastructure on bats at a population level
o A local scale observational method to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures, such as crossing structures over or under linear infrastructure.
“The effects of transport systems on bats are clearly significant and, given the density of our transport network, very pervasive,” said Dr Anna Berthinussen, the project’s lead researcher.
“Roads and railways fragment the countryside, separating bats from important feeding and roosting sites. They confine bats to smaller and smaller patches of land that can sustain fewer individuals. Those bats that attempt to cross run the risk of being killed by traffic, since most fly close to the ground.”
“But this is not just about bats – they are the canaries in the mine alerting us to greater dangers,” said Professor Altringham. “There is substantial evidence, from many studies conducted around the world, of significant effects of roads on other mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles, and even bees and butterflies.
“But the effects of roads on biodiversity have received relatively little attention compared to the many other things that we humans do to the environment.”
He added that the damaging effects of roads had not gone completely unnoticed; some effort had gone into trying to make roads safer and easier for bats to cross.
Various designs of underpass and overpass have been built in an attempt to conduct bats safely under or over roads. Wire bridges, sometimes known as bat gantries, are designed to act as “echolocation guides” for bats: structures they will navigate along, safely above the traffic.
“Unfortunately, poor design or poor connectivity to the bats’ own ‘flyways’ along streams, hedges and woodlands has meant that few attempts have been successful,” said Professor Altringham.
“‘Poor monitoring, or a complete absence of monitoring, has meant that this failure has gone undetected, and we have continued to build structures that don’t work.”
“We should certainly stop building wire gantries. All those tested, in this and in our previous study (http://goo.gl/9J4evd), were totally ineffective. But well-designed underpasses that are effectively connected to existing wildlife corridors can clearly do a good job. The failures of the past have been in making underpasses too small, putting them in the wrong place or leaving them isolated from green corridors.
“Green bridges – wide bridges planted with grass, shrubs and trees – have considerable potential for bats and other wildlife and the one we tested was very effective.”
Dr Berthinussen added “It is important that we test new designs and if necessary improve them before building more. We must learn from past mistakes if mitigation is to be both effective and cost-effective.”
Darren Tomlinson, Michelle Peckham, Megan Wright, BBSRC (Jun 2018), £150,443
Simon Walker, Royal Society (Jun 2018), £337,601
Tom Thirkell, N8 Agrifood (Jun 2018), £14,870
Stephen Muench with Glaxo SmithKline & UCB Celltech, BBSRC Industrial Partnership Award (Apr 2018), £480,225
Steve Clapcote, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £443,072
Helen Miller, Innovate UK (Apr 2018), £999,960
Elisabetta Groppelli, David Rowlands & Stanley Lemon (University of North Carolina), Medical Research Foundation Fellowship (Apr 2018), £293,494
Nikesh Patel, Medical Research Foundation fellowship (Apr 2018), £290,976
Graham Askew with colleagues in Hull and Liverpool, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £150,498
Andrew Macdonald, Neil Ranson & Richard Foster, Kidney Research UK (Apr 2018), £82,821
Jessica Kwok & Ralf Richter, Leverhulme Trust (Apr 2018), £298,273
Julie Aspden, Royal Society (Apr 2018), £20,000
Liz Duncan, Royal Society (Mar 2018), £14,602
Alex O'Neill & Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £45,489
Jim Deuchars, Royal Society (Feb 2018), £16,300
Stefan Kepinski & Netta Cohen, Leverhulme Trust (Feb 2018), £320,387
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £49,950
Alison Baker, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Scott Bowen, Leducq Foundation Grant (Feb 2018), £28,470
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
Alex O'Neill, Oxford Drug Design (Jan 2018), £86,098
Dave Lewis and Colleagues in South Africa, HEFCE Global Challenge Research (Jan 2018), £48,000
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer and Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, Yun Yung Gong and Lindsay Stringer and ICRISAT India, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £27,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000