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Case study

Collaborating and supporting pioneering science

Combined Ecology has, since it's launch in 2014, worked on a number of projects in Europe and Africa and has embraced new technologies such as E-DNA.

Since our launch, several Combined Ecology projects have stood out. In early 2015, we led a field team in Sierra Leone to survey birds, small mammals, fish and bats. Whilst West African birds are well known, this represented a real opportunity to undertake interesting work on the other taxa. Freshwater fish show an incredible diversity in Sierra Leone, and many fish species are endemic to particular catchments. During the three week expedition, the team discovered one species new to science and three others that will be subject to genetic work to establish if they too are new. The bat surveys also logged several interesting species, including one that had only been recorded nine times previously.

Our work in the renewable energy sector has expanded overseas and Combined Ecology is currently involved in Ghana’s first large-scale wind energy project. We have been asked by the developer to undertake baseline bird and bat surveys in the wind farm area. Renewables continue to be a strong area for us in the UK as well, and we are involved in a number of projects looking at wind and tidal energy.

These two projects illustrate just how diverse the work in the commercial sector can be. Combined Ecology has the backup of BTO science, while for areas outside our expertise we collaborate with other organisations or individuals to ensure that we can provide an excellent all-round biodiversity assessment service. This includes not only traditional forms of surveying but also the use of new technologies, such as environmental DNA (e-DNA) and meta-barcoding, which are just starting to be accepted by regulators (for example, Natural England now allows the analysis of DNA water samples to detect the presence or absence of Great Crested Newts).

We feel this is just the beginning and that e-DNA has huge potential to revolutionise the world of biodiversity assessment. Meta-barcoding, where fragments of DNA (barcodes) are extracted from environmental samples (e.g. water and soil samples) and compared against known species in genetic databases, could be used to detect the presence or absence of a vast range of species from a single sample. Where we can, we aim to introduce these techniques alongside more traditional forms of biological surveying, allowing us to develop and refine these opportunities with our partner organisations.

Although only launched in 2014, Combined Ecology has already diversified the work it carries out. By partnering with experts in other taxa, we have significantly broadened what we can offer clients and this will allow us to develop our work internationally. In embracing new technology we will continue to offer a broad range of services to clients.

Excerpt from BTO Annual Review 2015

Author: Phil Atkinson; Science Director Combined Ecology