Publications for Dr Mark Hancock

Effectively integrating experiments into conservation practice

Making effective decisions in conservation requires a broad and robust evidence base describing the likely outcomes of potential actions to draw on. Such evidence is typically generated from experiments or trials that evaluate the effectiveness of actions, but for many actions evidence is missing or incomplete.
We discuss how evidence can be generated by incorporating experiments into conservation practice. This is likely to be most efficient if opportunities for carrying out informative, well-designed experiments are identified at an early stage during conservation management planning.
We consider how to navigate a way between the stringent requirements of statistical textbooks and the complexities of carrying out ecological experiments in the real world by considering practical approaches to the key issues of replication, controls and randomization.
We suggest that routinely sharing the results of experiments could increase both the value for money and effectiveness of conservation practice.
We argue that with early planning and a small additional input of effort, important new learning can be gained during the implementation of many conservation actions.

Date
24 May 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Ockendon, Nancy Amano, Tatsuya Cadotte, Marc Downey, Harriet Hancock, Mark H Thornton, Ann Tinsley‐Marshall, Paul Sutherland, William J
Published in
Ecological Solutions and Evidence
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Catchment water quality in the year preceding and immediately following restoration of a drained afforested blanket bog

The restoration of drained afforested peatlands, through drain blocking and tree removal, is increasing in response to peatland restoration targets and policy incentives. In the short term, these intensive restoration operations may affect receiving watercourses and the biota that depend upon them. This study assessed the immediate effect of ‘forest-to-bog’ restoration by measuring stream and river water quality for a 15 month period pre- and post-restoration, in the Flow Country peatlands of northern Scotland. We found that the chemistry of streams draining restoration areas differed from that of control streams following restoration, with phosphate concentrations significantly higher (1.7–6.2 fold, mean 4.4) in restoration streams compared to the pre-restoration period. This led to a decrease in the pass rate (from 100 to 75%) for the target “good” quality threshold (based on EU Water Framework Directive guidelines) in rivers in this immediate post-restoration period, when compared to unaffected river baseline sites (which fell from 100 to 90% post-restoration). While overall increases in turbidity, dissolved organic carbon, iron, potassium and manganese were not significant post-restoration, they exhibited an exaggerated seasonal cycle, peaking in summer months in restoration streams. We attribute these relatively limited, minor short-term impacts to the fact that relatively small percentages of the catchment area (3–23%), in our study catchments were felled, and that drain blocking and silt traps, put in place as part of restoration management, were likely effective in mitigating negative effects. Looking ahead, we suggest that future research should investigate longer term water quality effects and compare different ways of potentially controlling nutrient release.

Date
30 March 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Gaffney, Paul PJ Hancock, Mark H Taggart, Mark A Andersen, Roxane
Published in
Biogeochemistry
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Use of a novel camera trapping approach to measure small mammal responses to peatland restoration

Small mammals, such as small rodents (Rodentia: Muroidea) and shrews (Insectivora: Soricidae), present particular challenges in camera trap surveys. Their size is often insufficient to trigger infra-red sensors, whilst resultant images may be of inadequate quality for species identification. The conventional survey method for small mammals, live-trapping, can be both labour-intensive and detrimental to animal welfare. Here, we describe a method for using camera traps for monitoring small mammals. We show that by attaching the camera trap to a baited tunnel, fixing a close-focus lens over the camera trap lens, and reducing the flash intensity, pictures or videos can be obtained of sufficient quality for identifying species. We demonstrate the use of the method by comparing occurrences of small mammals in a peatland landscape containing (i) plantation forestry (planted on drained former blanket bog), (ii) ex-forestry areas undergoing bog restoration, and (iii) unmodified blanket bog habitat. Rodents were detected only in forestry and restoration areas, whilst shrews were detected across all habitat. The odds of detecting small mammals were 7.6 times higher on camera traps set in plantation forestry than in unmodified bog, and 3.7 times higher on camera traps in restoration areas than in bog. When absolute abundance estimates are not required, and camera traps are available, this technique provides a low-cost survey method that is labour-efficient and has minimal animal welfare implications.

Date
12 January 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Littlewood, Nick A Hancock, Mark H Newey, Scott Shackelford, Gorm Toney, Rose
Published in
European Journal of Wildlife Research
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Restoration of afforested peatland: immediate effects on aquatic carbon loss

•We investigated short-term aquatic carbon losses following bog restoration.

•There were no significant changes in aquatic carbon concentrations or exports.

•Seasonally increased DOC concentrations may be associated with restoration.

•Restoring small catchment portions (e.g., ≤12%), should minimise aquatic carbon losses.

Date
10 November 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Gaffney, Paul PJ; Taggart, Mark A; Andersen, Roxane
Published in
Science of The Total Environment 742
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From a research study to a conservation partnership: Developing approaches to restoring common scoter populations

1.     Like many sea-duck populations, the British breeding population of common scoters Melanitta nigra has declined markedly. In 2009, a study was established to measure factors affecting lake use by breeding scoters, to inform conservation measures. That study, published in Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems (AQC) in 2016, showed that lakes used by scoters had relatively more shallow water and large invertebrates. Furthermore, lakes with abundant large invertebrates had relatively few brown trout Salmo trutta. These results probably reflect the importance of foraging habitat (shallow water), prey abundance (large invertebrates), and competition for prey (trout abundance) in influencing scoter lake use.

2.     To develop this study, additional research, and scoter conservation measures, we formed a long-term partnership, comprising nature conservation non-governmental organizations, statutory agencies, fisheries managers and the regional hydropower company. The partnership meets regularly to coordinate and review research and develop conservation measures, building on the earlier lake-use study.

3.     At key scoter lakes managed for hydropower, the partnership negotiated a revised water level management regime, favouring shallow water availability in the breeding season. This regime was informed by additional research, showing the value of certain islands for nesting scoters, and water level requirements to maintain these as islands.

4.     In a different key scoter area — an extensive near-natural peatland where recreational angling takes place — the partnership established a trial of increased brown trout angling, with increased fish removal, to determine whether this would increase invertebrate prey abundance and benefit breeding scoters. Both conservation interventions are currently being evaluated by detailed monitoring.

5.     Overall, the earlier study published in AQC, was important in strengthening and informing our researcher–practitioner partnership, as we collaborated within an adaptive management framework to reverse scoter declines. Long-term interdisciplinary partnerships are likely to have an important role to play in general, for the successful conservation of aquatic biodiversity.

Date
18 September 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock, Trevor Smith
Authors
Robson, Hannah J; Stephen, Alastair; Byrne, Paul; MacLennan, Alison; Klein, Daniela; Mitchell, Carl; Griffin, Larry R; Hilton, Geoff
Published in
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 30 (9): 1770-1774
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Guild-level responses by mammalian predators to afforestation and subsequent restoration in a formerly treeless peatland landscape

Afforestation of formerly open landscapes can transform mammalian predator communities, potentially impacting prey species like ground-nesting birds. In Scotland's Flow Country, a globally important peatland containing many forestry plantations, earlier studies found reduced densities of breeding waders on open bogs, when forestry plantations were present within 700 m. One plausible explanation for this pattern is mammalian predation. We tested whether mammalian predator indices, based on scats (feces), differed between (1) open bog, forestry plantations, and former plantations being restored as bog (“restoration” habitats); (2) restoration habitats of different ages; and (3) open bogs with differing amounts of nearby forestry. We measured summer scat density and size over 14 years in 26 transects 0.6–4.5 km in length, collecting data during 93, 96, and 79 transect-years in bog, forestry, and restoration habitats respectively. In forestry, scat density increased eightfold, reaching values ~6 times higher than those of bogs. On open bogs with over 10% forestry within 700 m, scat densities were 2.9 times higher than on open bogs with less forestry nearby. Results support the hypothesis that mammalian predators might be responsible for the low densities of breeding waders close to forests, on adjacent open bogs. In restoration habitats, scat densities rose 6–10 years after felling but fell to levels similar to open bogs in older restoration habitats, supporting restoration management as a means of reducing mammalian predator activity/abundance. We urge caution around decisions to establish forestry plantations in open landscapes of high biodiversity importance.

Date
20 March 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Klein, Daniela; Cowie, Neil R
Published in
Restoration Ecology 28 (5) 1113-1123
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Vegetation response to restoration management of a blanket bog damaged by drainage and afforestation

Questions
Does restoration management of a formerly afforested blanket bog lead to the vegetation, and the environmental conditions it indicates, becoming similar to intact bog?
Location
A 147-ha blanket bog in Scotland's Flow Country, afforested in the 1980s but undergoing restoration since 1998.
Methods
Vegetation in the restoration area was surveyed in nine, 1.6–6.4-ha plots, in 1998, 2003 and 2011. Each plot was matched to nearby plots that were either intact bog or remained afforested. Principal Response Curves were used to highlight the main axes of vegetation variation and test whether plant community trajectories in the restoration area differed from intact bog. The following restoration outcomes were assessed: floristic similarity to bog vegetation; and moisture, fertility and acidity, as inferred from vegetation using Ellenberg indicator values.
Results
In the 6 years after restoration began, vegetation developed towards bog-like conditions. In the subsequent 8 years, overall vegetation change stalled, and spatial variability increased, reflecting diverging trajectories in wetter and drier parts of the site. Ellenberg's F-values implied significant re-wetting in the restoration area, reaching moisture levels similar to intact bog. Other restoration outcomes progressed in wetter microsites and areas (furrows and flat ground), but stalled in drier locations (plough-ridges and steeper slopes).
Conclusions
Overall moisture conditions, as indicated by plants, have recovered. However, restoration progress has stalled in drier areas, where additional management may be needed. Long-term vegetation monitoring has helped clarify barriers to recovery and the management needed to overcome them. The value of such monitoring schemes in guiding restoration should be reflected in their wider implementation, within an adaptive management framework.

Date
22 January 2019
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Klein, Daniela; Andersen, Roxane; Cowie, Neil R
Published in
Applied Vegetation Science
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Knockfin Heights: a high-altitude Flow Country peatland showing extensive erosion of uncertain origin

Peatland erosion has important implications for ecosystem services such as carbon storage and biodiversity conservation. The extensive blanket bogs of Scotland’s Flow Country include some of the least damaged peatlands in the UK; nevertheless, erosion features occur widely in the area. Here we describe a high-altitude (340–440 m) heavily eroded peatland at Knockfin Heights in the Flow Country.

Date
01 October 2018
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Hancock, M.H., England, B. & Cowie, N.R
Published in
Mires and Peat, 23
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Correlates of lake use by breeding common scoters in Scotland

Many populations of sea-ducks, which typically winter at sea but breed on fresh water, are declining. Numbers of common scoters Melanitta nigra (L.) breeding in Scotland halved between 1995 and...

Date
02 August 2016
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock, Trevor Smith
Authors
Hancock, M., Robson, H.J., Smith, T.D. & Douse, A.
Published in
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 26: 749–767
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Habitat associations of young Black Grouse broods

Capsule: In the Scottish Highlands, Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix females with young broods selected areas rich in wet flushes, grasses and Sphagnum mosses. Aims: To identify associations between young Black Grouse broods and habitat characteristics. Methods: We located brood-rearing Black Grouse females in four areas of moorland-forest mosaic in the Scottish...

Date
09 June 2016
RSPB Authors
Dr Staffan Roos, Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Roos, S., Donald, C., Dugan, D., Hancock, M.H., O'Hara, D., Stephen, L. & Grant, M.
Published in
Bird Study 63: 203-213
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