Tuesday, 3 September 2013

10 Pet hates of an ecological consultant

I'm a fairly laid back person and I learned long ago that its not worth getting wound up about things. But in my work as a Consultant Ecologist and bat specialist there are certain irritants that crop up time and again. I thought it might be fun to create a top ten, so here it is.

10 - People who think all bats are the same. We have 18 species of bat in the UK and at least nine here in Scotland. Each occupies a distinct niche, with behaviour, habitat, roosting habits etc entirely different from the rest. Why then do people (including some of the poorer consultant ecologists) insist on talking about bats as though they were one unvarying species?

9 - Jokes about "bat man". I like a joke as much as the next person. But I mean, really? Bat man? Satirical wit of the highest calibre it ain't! And guess what? I've heard it before! Just once or thrice.

8 - Rigid adherence to the BCT Bat Survey Guidelines. The word "guideline" gives it away. This document is an excellent starting point in planning a bat survey, but to rigidly adhere to its content, without consideration or understanding is just plain silly. You should be able to explain why you're deviating from the guidelines, but an ecologist who lacks the knowledge and experience to do so also lacks sufficient knowledge and experience to be carrying out bat surveys in the first place. Enough said!

7 - Sub-standard equipment used in bat surveys. It's simple: a good quality broadband bat detector and a means of recording calls during a survey for later confirmation of species if necessary. Yet often commercial bat surveys are done with heterodyne bat detectors, often cheap and nasty ones too. One large Scottish consultancy regularly sends out bat survey teams with only enough bat detectors for half of them to be equipped at all. And that verges on criminal negligence.

6 - Clients who ask for bat surveys at the end of September. Here in Scotland the bat survey season ends at the end of September. We told you that months ago. We wrote it in a report for you. We reminded you in an email. We even explained why. Next time should we tattoo it on your forehead? Would that help?

5 - Attention-seekers who pretend to be scared of bats. A tiny number of people have a genuine phobia about bats. Often they are also phobic about birds. It's hard for them and I'm sympathetic. But I have no time for the much greater number of people who pretend to be phobic because they want to be the centre of attention. I've seen genuine hysteria and it's very different.

4 - Clients who pretend they don't know about a bat roost in the hope we won't notice it. Really? You have 500 Soprano Pipistrelles in your roof and you seriously hoped I wouldn't notice? Not only is it very silly but if you need our professional assistance we need to work together and that involves trust. So stop playing silly buggers...

3 - People calling me a bat expert. The more I work with bats the more I realise how much there is we still don't know about   these amazing and enigmatic creatures. Yes I know some stuff, but I can't echolocate, I can't turn in high speed flight a whisker away from a wall and I can't  slow my heartbeat to once a minute. If you want a real bat expert ask a bat. 

2 - Garden centre bat boxes. There are many designs of bat box around. Some are more successful than others. Some work better for this species or that one or in certain types of location. What is never going to work is the type which is on sale in garden centres and pet shops with a horizontal plywood perch at the base, at a right angle to the entrance slot. The bats need to emerge from the entrance and dive to rapidly gain airspeed. If they do so with one of those bat boxes they'll get a sudden headache! Which is why they are a waste of money.

1 - Overly complicated bat detectors. I'm male, therefore I like gadgets. Big shiny gadgets with lots of buttons and knobs make my eyes go wide with excitement. Some bat detector manufacturers have seen me coming and are making ever more clever and complex machines so I can spend my pennies on shiny toys. But bat detectors aren't like other gadgets. We use them in the dark. At night. When we're cold. And tired. And fed up by the lack of bat activity. And when we keep tripping over things. And we're trying to juggle a detector, a recorder, a torch and a notebook and pen. By all means make them clever and fill them with whistles and bangs. But for heavens sake make them so I can work them in the field without needing a masters in geekiness and a 100 page manual!

So there's my annual rant. Now I can return to being calm, collected and relaxed about my work.

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