East West Rail is a major project to connect East Anglia with Central, Southern and Western England, including bringing back into service over 50 miles of disused track between Oxford and Bedford.
Thomson Ecology has been working on the Western Section for more than two years – providing a strategic review of previous ecological studies in the area, followed by protected species surveys for bats, great crested newts, dormice and reptiles – to help the East West Rail consortium understand its legal and planning obligations with respect to biodiversity and to fulfil the requirements of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for this part of the project.
The project has allowed the Thomson Ecology team to use two new techniques which are revolutionising the way that ecology works in the field.
Firstly, environmental DNA (otherwise known as eDNA) surveys have been used to sample ponds for great crested newt DNA. eDNA surveys involve just one daytime visit followed by associated laboratory analysis achieving the same result as conventional surveys which involve four overnight visits to establish the presence or absence of the species. This groundbreaking technique can detect newt DNA when there are many times less than one part per million in the sample of pond water. So far we have surveyed more than 70 ponds along the route of East West Rail using this method.
Secondly, we have utilised our interactive mapping service, TIM (Thomson Interactive Mapping). The service allows those working on site to capture data onto pre-loaded digital maps whilst using GPS to track their precise location, therefore bypassing transcribing data onto paper maps later, saving a great deal of time. Project managers and the client can see the data as it’s collected, monitoring the surveys’ progress. The data will be available to the Contractor in GIS format, easily accessible on a range of devices, and updated as the project progresses.