NBC Environment Dog Unit – Ecology’s Best Friend
We have recently installed new dog kennels at our Snetterton HQ. The kennels are not just for staff to bring their pets to work, but for our working dogs to be housed when not out on site. But what does the NBC Environment Dog Unit do?
It’s well known that dogs can be used for search and rescue, drug, explosive and even cancer detection, but they can also be used for a number of ecology and conversation purposes.
At NBC Environment, our dogs are used for two key operations, for bird disruption as well as to support ecological surveys marking birds that may otherwise be missed. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to damage or remove any bird nests and with those classified as schedule 1 it is even an offence to disturb them whilst they are nesting. This can cause a project to be halted and thousands of pounds lost due to the delay in waiting for birds to complete breeding and for youngsters to fledge the nest.
When used to support Ecological surveys the dogs will cover large areas of ground thoroughly by quartering to ensure nothing is missed; an activity where the dog runs a wide pattern from side to side, covering an area of land looking for a scent. When the dog picks up a scent it will freeze (point) giving an indication it has located a bird. Depending on the time of year and the required objective the handler can give the command to flush allowing the bird to take flight away from the area unharmed or the handler can mark the location and retreat to a distance to observe, further avoiding disturbance. This technique is especially useful when surveying for ground nesting birds such as Lapwing or Skylarks. When carrying out a survey in this way you can be confident your findings are accurate. Using dogs for surveys of this kind is quick, effective and minimises the disturbance to surrounding wildlife and habitat. Dogs are highly accurate and can access areas otherwise inaccessible to humans, ensuring that the entire area is surveyed.
All locations where birds have been observed or scents have been located are marked on GPS and recorded, enabling us to obtain data on activity, highlighting trends or ‘hot spots’, thereby allowing us to assess and recommend the action required.
If we are looking to deter birds from nesting we will complete a dispersal program prior to the nesting season running dogs regularly encouraging the birds to nest in an area they will be safe away from any potential development. We can increase the level of deterrent further by utilising birds of prey. These birds are specially trained and do not hunt but fly in a menacing manner, thus discouraging the ground nesting birds from using the area.
NBC also provides consultancy in habitat creation and recommends that any dispersal program is better supported by the implementation of suitable alternative nesting locations in a nearby specially created conservation area, giving them an alternative area to nest. We have a 100% success record in this specialist field and help our clients to avoid project delays, associated cost implications and prevent breaking the law and damaging their reputations.
In addition to detecting ground nesting birds, dogs can be used for a number of other ecology purposes:
Plant identification – detection and early prevention of invasive plant species is important to protect the ecosystem. In some cases, a dog can detect a plant before it breaks the surface of the ground, thereby improving the accuracy of the survey and a greater chance to eliminate the problem.
Carcass search – it’s often necessary to survey an area to understand the mortality rate of a species in order to understand the impact of physical and biological factors. Dogs can quickly identify carcasses in a variety of terrains and more consistently than their human counterparts.
Wildlife detection – Dogs can be trained to detect other wildlife, for example the Great Crested Newt, a protected species in the UK or dormice. It’s also possible to train dogs to find scat (faeces) of particular species as a rapid, non-invasive survey. This allows an opportunity to assess the species’ presence and relocate either for the purpose of development or conservation. In the case of endangered species, the scat may be collected for genetic testing.
Pest detection – Dogs are successfully being used by some of the major Hotel brands to scent out bed bugs before an infestation starts and clients complain.
So perhaps the better question is, what can’t our dogs do? Invaluable to our ecology work, they help us to deter and protect wildlife and increase the amount of data we collect in a shorter period of time, all of which means we provide a better service to our clients.