Smartphone app highlights disturbance threat to birds

By Mark Kinver
Environment reporter, BBC News

Eurasian oystercatchers
Image caption,
Relatively little information is available on how developments affect birds such as the oystercatcher

A smartphone app has been released that can measure the impact of construction work on waterbirds in protected areas.

The software offers advice on how development projects, in the guise of noise levels and other disturbances, can affect birds' behaviour.

Researchers from the University of Hull, UK, developed the app that built on a study carried out on behalf of the Environment Agency.

The team hopes it will minimise the disruption from flood prevention work.

Researchers say the app is designed to help planners assess the possible effects of proposed work before they consent to a development going ahead.

It also will allow contractors to measure noise levels on the site and offer advice on the degree of disturbance the work will have on bird species.

"There is relatively little information on the impacts from disturbance events on waterbirds, in particular from noise," explained Nick Cutts, deputy director of the university's Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies (IECS).

"While such events will not normally lead to a direct mortality of birds, cumulative and/or prolonged disturbance events may effectively exclude resource use and could lead to carrying-capacity reduction in estuaries, and thus starvation or movement to other areas by some species.

"As such, when plans and projects are submitted, they are often subject to conditions relating to disturbance management, including restrictions on works timings and noise levels."

Noise impacts

Image caption,
The application provides a profile of bird species and their susceptibility to noise disturbances

The data collected by the team of researchers at IECS originally formed part of a study for the Environment Agency that aimed to provide a "real-time" characterisation of likely noise impacts.

The "toolbox included background on disturbances and waterbird ecology with guidance for mitigation, etc. for estuary planners and developers to use," Mr Cutts added.

The data was processed, as part of the EU-funded TIDE project, to develop the app, created by Mr Cutts and colleagues Krystal Hemingway and Chris Baulcomb.

It uses on-phone noise and GPS facilities to allow real-time characterisation of likely noise effects, Mr Cutts adds.

He said: "It can be used 'in office' by project planners, consenting bodies and others in order to identify a range of potential disturbance sources, and through the manual input of noise level and location data to identify a disturbance radius."

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