The University of South Wales, Coleg y Cymoedd, has worked with a Welsh manufacturer and a number of international organizations to study how human activity affects wildlife across the world.
The global Acoustic Monitoring project to study wildlife using nature sounds has seen Coleg y Cymoedd team up with semiconductor manufacturer, Newport Wafer Fab, and Welsh television and film professional, William Todd-Jones, alongside a network of creative and environmental partners; Wild Connect, Natural Resources Wales, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
The project will assess and compare the levels of biodiversity – in this case the variety of wildlife – in Wales and Africa, by monitoring the sounds of animals and ecosystems in the regions using specialist remote sound recorders called “Biophones”.
Environmental consultancy, Wild Connect, saw the need to develop a robust audio monitoring device – a biophone – that professional and amateur conservationists could use to record and analyze the sounds of nature. The result is a valuable device for science in the field of eco-acoustics and a tool that can help re-engage the public with the natural world.
In the wild, animals use sounds for a number of reasons, from communication and navigation to hunting and territorial defense. Analyzing these sounds can provide ecologists and conservationists with rich data about the environment and animal populations, helping them understand where certain species live, how many there are, and what they are doing. This can help reveal behavioral and population changes as well as highlight the impact of human activity on local wildlife.
As part of the project, staff and learners from Coleg y Cymoedd’s engineering and design departments joined forces with Wild Connect, Newport Wafer Fab, CSA Catapult and GX-Group to create 35 biophones.
The devices will be placed around Wales and Namibia over the next year, enabling pan-Welsh monitoring and data analysis, as well as wildlife agencies collating data from the Namibian deployment.
The pilot study will put the device to the test in extreme conditions – namely Wales, with its wet and cold landscape, and Namibia with its dry and scorching deserts.
The relationship with Namibia is the result of project partner and conservationist William Todd-Jones’ long-standing involvement with wildlife charities in Africa.
Both sets of records will be analyzed to provide regional environmental information and evidence of ecosystem diversity between the two areas. The results will help reveal how the contrasting climates, human population levels and degrees of development in Wales and Namibia affect the surrounding natural world in the two regions.
Alistair Aston, Creative Industries Coordinator at Coleg y Cymoedd and Project Manager, said: “The ‘Biophone project offers our creative learners and engineers a great opportunity to be directly involved in a project designed to make a difference. It’s also a fantastic demonstration of how art and science can be used together to tackle key issues affecting our planet.
“We are really looking forward to getting the records from Wales and Namibia, which will help us discover some truly amazing things about our wildlife and how we can play our part in shaping the future of our planet.”
Iestyn Llŷr, Senior Embedded Software Engineer at CSA Catapult, added: “This is a great example of Welsh companies working together to explore how a conceptual idea can be developed commercially. CSA Catapult aims to bridge the gap between research and industry in the world of compound semiconductors, as well as to inspire the next generation of engineers through our Skills Academy and STEM program. This project showcases the innovative ideas of budding engineers and how they solve problems that will affect us all.
Natural Resources Wales provided expert advice and helped deploy the first pilot tests of the biophones at sites in Wales before they arrived in Namibia.
Holly Butterworth, Specialist Advisor for Future and Innovation at Natural Resources Wales, said: “We are really delighted to support the Biophones study. We worked with the team to provide test sites and connected them with experts in the field to explore potential applications for the device, particularly around biodiversity.
“It’s exciting to see the developments and it’s wonderful to be part of a project that brings together so many experts and young people to realize innovative technologies that will work to address climate and natural emergencies.”
Established by the College, Wild Connect and Newport Wafer Fab to collect data on the impact of climate change and increasing urbanization on wildlife and animal populations around the world, it is hoped that the results of the project will help inform and shape key environmental policies in both countries.
After the completion of the first phase of the project in 2022, learners will be able to gain hands-on learning experience using prototype biophones to record and analyze sounds themselves. This will help achieve the project’s goal of promoting the general public’s participation in science and the arts as part of the broader STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) initiative of the college and partners. of the project.