Full text: Remote sensing for resources development and environmental management (Volume 2)

Symposium on Remote Sensing for Resources Development and Environmental Management / Enschede / August 1986 
The application of remote sensing to urban bird ecology 
L.M.Baines & W.G.Collins 
Remote Sensing Unit, University of Aston, Birmingham, UK 
P. Robins 
Operational Research, University of Aston, Birmingham, UK 
ABSTRACT: The aim of this paper is to assess the feasibility of a 
remote sensing system to determine the carrying capacity of urban 
habitats for certain species, in this instance, woodland birds. 
Investigations were carried out into the relationship between 
variables which can be identified from the air photographs and bird 
populations. The major variables examined were habitat area and 
habitat dispersion. Evidence of an relationship between the number 
of bird species and habitat area was found, but as yet the results 
are too inconclusive to allow predictions. 
The value of green areas in the urban 
environment has been recognised by many 
offical bodies in recent years. "Everyday 
contact with the natural world is essential 
to a healthy physical, mental and spiritual 
existence". (Nature Conservancy Council, 
1984). Increasingly statutory bodies and 
local authorities are aware of the role they 
play to ensure urban wildlife is considered 
in planning and land management decisions. 
Recently the now-extinct West Midlands County 
Council produced a valuable document "The 
Nature Conservation Strategy for the County 
of West Midlands" which stressed the need for 
the enhancement or creation of semi-natural 
open spaces to benefit urban wildlife and the 
residential population. This trend is not 
only evident in the UK, but throughout the 
'developed world'. However semi-natural open 
space is only one of the competing land uses 
in the urban environment and therefore a 
compromise will always have to be made 
between the demand for green areas and the 
demand for development. As a consequence 
there is a need for a method to identify 
which areas are valuable ecologically and 
thus try, if possible, to steer development 
away from these to less valuable options. 
One method of allocating a value to urban 
open space is to identify the area's carrying 
capacity for a species of interest. 
The aim of this paper is to assess the 
feasibility of aerial photography to 
determine the bird carrying capacity of an 
urban woodland. If it is possible to predict 
bird population numbers from air photographs 
the population rate of change due to 
development can be determined. Aerial 
photographs have been used in a number of 
studies concerned with bird population 
prediction, (Skaley 1981, Lancaster and Rees 
1979), however either the technique has been 
too complex or the photographs have been used 
merely as an addition to field data rather 
than as a data source in themselves. 
The Blackbrook Valley is situated in the 
heart of the industrial Black Country in the 
West Midlands. It is approximately 300 
hectares of common land in a dense industrial 
and residential area. The heavy industry 
which once dominated this area has declined 
leaving high unemployment and dereliction. 
As a method to try and encourage industry 
back into the region, the northern section of 
the Blackbrook Valley was designated an 
Enterprise Zone in 1981. One of the 
attractions of an Enterprise Zone to industry 
is the lack of planning controls therefore 
industrial development has and is posing a 
threat to a valuable wildlife area. A local 
nature reserve has been established in the 
southern part of the valley - Saltswells 
Nature Reserve (41.2 hectares). This is 
comprised of a large area of mixed deciduous 
woodland planted at the end of the eighteenth 
century and an abandoned fireclay pit which 
has geological and ecological value. The 
anaylsis has concentrated on the nature 
The Nature Conservancy Council (N.C.C.) 
commissioned two sets of imagery of the study 
area. Large scale panchromatic, colour and 
colour infra-red photography (1:2500) was 
flown in the summers of 1981 and 1984 
providing complete coverage of the area. 
Interpretation was carried out using an old 
Delft stereoscope and the colour infra-red 
photography. This emulsion was found to 
provide the greatest amount of detail for 
this particular project. A monoscopic zoom 
transferscope was used to transfer the 
information extracted from the air 
photographs on to a 1:2500 scale base map.

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